Even though parents and teachers are both educators, things will work better if parents and teachers play different roles. A year ago Lorrie Soria told the following story in a comment on one of my posts about homework. I read it again this morning and decided it stands on its own two feet as a great story about “playing position.”
Years ago, when my daughter was in 3rd grade, homework was indeed a struggle. After one particularly grueling go-around, I mentioned the struggle to my daughter’s teacher. She told me to make sure my daughter had a suitable place to study, a set amount of time in which to do so, and all the requisite materials. She suggested I set a timer, be close by to offer assistance, let my child know I was there, and then make myself scarce. At the end of the time allotted on the timer, I was to have my child put her homework away. If it was done, it was done; if not, then my child could discuss the issue with her teacher the next day. Her philosophy was that if my daughter couldn’t finish her homework within the amount of time then either my daughter didn’t understand the assignment, there was too much assigned, or she had not spent her time wisely. Ms. M. told me that she’d figure it out so it wouldn’t be a battleground at home.
Well, that afternoon, I set my daughter up at the kitchen table with all her materials and books, offered help (which was declined), let her know I’d be in the next room if she needed help after all, set the timer, and then left her to it. When the timer went off, I went in to clear the kitchen table for dinner. My daughter had barely done anything, and when I asked her to clear things up, she got upset. I told her calmly what Ms. M had said – either she had too much work, didn’t understand what she needed to do, or hadn’t used her time properly. In either case, I told my child, Ms. M. needed to know what was going on. If there was too much work, she needed to know so she could adjust the amount. If my daughter didn’t understand what needed doing, Ms. M would explain it to her again. If she hadn’t used her time wisely, well, she could do her homework the next day at recess time.
Faced with the options, my daughter begged for another chance to do her homework after dinner, and explained that she did know how to do her work, but didn’t want to sit for so long to do it. However, she didn’t want to have to sit during recess the next day, so if I’d give her another chance, she’d do what she needed to do. I asked her to clear up, help me set the table, and we’d see how things went after dinner.
After dinner, she went, of her own accord, grabbed her materials and books and sat down at the kitchen table to work on her homework. In a relatively short span of time (certainly less than she’d spent earlier), her work was done, and done well. I told her how proud I was that she’d taken responsibility for getting the work done, while secretly blessing this wise young teacher for handing me a solution that took the battle out of homework.
After that afternoon, any time there was homework fuss, for her or for our son, we simply moved to put the homework away. If there was indeed a question, it surfaced at that time, and assistance was either given or a note was written to the teacher requesting additional help. If there was no question, but the kids felt they had just had enough studying for one day, they knew they’d face the consequence the next day. Because there were no battle lines drawn, the policy opened a number of wonderful conversations about such things as the importance of homework and responsibility, self-esteem, intelligence, and the future applications of XYZ subject (fill in geometry, Civil War battle names, etc.).
When I became a teacher, I offered the same advice to my parents and students, with similar results. It continues to be one of my favorite discussion topics.
Thank you, again, Lorrie. Nice illustration of “genius” Principle F: When you care more about it than your child, it absolves the child of responsibility.