First Person

Parent blog: When you hear "I hate homework!"

Mom and literacy coach Ilana Spiegel confesses that she hates what homework can do to her household but says there are ways to eliminate daily battles.

I hate homework. Well, maybe it’s not homework I hate but the yelling, tears and endless procrastination that accompany homework in my house. It is when I think of homework as less of “work at home” and more of “continued learning” that I see a shift both in my ability to support my kiddos and in their willingness to comply.

Just the other day, my oldest, Max, a high school freshman, asked why on earth he needed to learn and practice factor labeling and dimensional analysis for a physical science class (yes, it was uttered with more than an ounce of adolescent angst along with the pragmatism).

He wanted to know not only the purpose for the work he was doing, but where it lived in the real world.  After I googled exactly what factor labeling and dimensional analysis are, I told him that his most favorite aunt and uncle who just finished med school probably use it all the time in figuring out medication dosing. My answer must have satisfied him because he went back to work.

But, really, why do homework?

Max and my other three kids raise a good question. Why do they need to do homework of any kind?

For a while I tried the, “It is exercise and food for your brain.” That worked about as well as, “Because I said so.” Once again, when I made the shift from “work at home” to “continued learning,” I began to realize that in the elementary and middle school years, homework should serve two purposes – to reinforce a skill taught at school and to communicate with parents about what is being taught.

At these grades, homework is neither busy work nor a time to learn new concepts. Math and spelling homework should provide an opportunity for your child to get more “reps” at a math technique or spelling concept that she has already been shown at school and has yet to master. Ideally, it should be specific to what she needs as a learner, based on formal classroom assessments and anecdotal observation. Science and social studies homework should involve reading or re-reading similar content that was explored in class.  Written reflections about what was learned and what your child still wants to know are reasonable for any subject.

The bottom line is we do homework to continue the learning we began in school so we can ultimately take it into the world with us.

Once high school starts, the work in school might be continued by applying what was learned to a new situation. Take, for example, Max’s factor label homework. One side of the paper was similar to what had been modeled and demonstrated in class. When Max cried, “He never taught us this” when he turned to the second page, he was right. The second set of problems required the students to apply what they had learned to similar, but not entirely the same, problems. The expectation as kids get older is that they can apply what they know to new situations.

Tools to support your child’s continued learning

Regardless of whether or not you are sitting in another room doing your own thing, or right next to your child giving immediate feedback, the space in which your child continues her learning should have all the tools necessary for work:

  • A hard, flat surface
  • Pencils, pens and highlighters
  • Rulers
  • Paper and sticky notes

In our house. we have four distinct work areas. Charlotte, my middle schooler, prefers the solitude and comfort of her bedroom to do  work. Jack, my fourth-grader, gets more anxious about what he is missing when he is in his room so you can often find him at the kitchen counter or table. Max, the high schooler, tends to use the “kids office,” or our formal living room which has a low wooden table and lots of lamps. Ruthie, my kindergartener, prefers a lap desk in the family room with a pencil box of supplies.

In addition to spaces, tools like planners are invaluable. For some kids, the simple act of writing down assignments is enough.  Others might need slips of paper and notes reminding them what supplies they need to bring home to fulfill the assignments.

Time and timers are additional tools. I’ve found that most kids grossly underestimate the amount of time needed to complete assignments. Use a timer to compare estimated and actual times, or to say, “You have 7 minutes to complete this assignment.” For some reason, numbers other than ones that end in zero or five grab kids attention better.

My kids are telling me to end this post with, “See, that’s why homework really does suck!” But they all concede that we have a lot fewer tears, screams and tantrums these days when we are continuing our learning at home.

Image of father helping his daughter with homework courtesy of Big Stock Photo.

First Person

To close out teacher appreciation week, meet the educators whose voices help shape the education conversation

From designing puzzles to get kids fired up about French to being christened “school mama” by students, teachers go above and beyond to make a difference. Chalkbeat is honored to celebrate Teacher Appreciation week with stories of the innovation, determination, and patience it takes to teach.  
Check out a few of the educator perspectives below and submit your own here.

  1. First Person: When talking about race in classrooms, disagreement is OK — hatred is not by David McGuire, principal at Tindley Accelerated Schools and previously a teacher in Pike Township. McGuire is also a co-founder of a group called Educate ME.  
  2. First Person: What my Bronx students think about passing through scanners at school by Christine Montera, a teacher at East Bronx Academy for the Future in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators 4 Excellence-New York.  
  3. First Person: What 100 ninth graders told me about why they don’t read by Jarred Amato, High School English teacher and founder of ProjectLITCommunity.
  4. This fourth-grade teacher doesn’t take away recess or use points to manage the class. Instead she’s built a culture of respect by Liz Fitzgerald, a fourth-grade teacher at Sagebrush Elementary and Colorado Teaching Policy fellow.
  5. First Person: Why I decided to come out to my second-grade students by Michael Patrick a second grade teacher at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary.
  6. Meet the teacher who helped organize the Women’s March on Denver, a profile of Cheetah McClellan, Lead Math Fellow at Denver Public Schools.
  7. First Person: At my school, we let students group themselves by race to talk about race — and it works, by Dave Mortimer, and educator at Bank Street School for Children.
  8. What Trump’s inauguration means for one undocumented Nashville student-turned-teacher a profile of Carlos Ruiz, a Spanish teacher at STRIVE Prep Excel and Teach for America fellow.
  9. First Person: ‘I was the kid who didn’t speak English’ by Mariangely Solis Cervera, the founding Spanish teacher at Achievement First East Brooklyn High School.
  10. First Person: Why recruiting more men of color isn’t enough to solve our teacher diversity problem by Beau Lancaster, a student advocate at the Harlem Children’s Zone and  Global Kids trainer teaching, writing, and developing a civic engagement and emotional development curriculum.
  11. Sign of the times: Teacher whose classroom-door sign went viral explains his message a profile of Eric Eisenstad, physics and biology teacher at Manhattan Hunter Science High School.
  12. First Person: How teachers should navigate the classroom debate during a polarizing election year  by Kent Willmann, an instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. He previously taught high school social studies in Longmont for 32 years.
  13. First Person: I teach students of color, and I see fear every day. Our job now is to model bravery by Rousseau Mieze, a history teacher at Achievement First Bushwick charter middle school.
  14. Pumpkin pie with a side of exhaustion: Why late fall is such a tough time to be a teacher by Amanda Gonzales, a high school special education teacher in Commerce City, Colorado.
  15. This teacher was a ‘class terrorist’ as a child. Now he uses that to understand his students by Andrew Pillow a technology and social issues teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle.
  16. What this teacher learned when her discipline system went awry — for all the right reasons by Trilce Marquez, a fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 11 in Chelsea.
  17. Here’s what one Tennessee teacher will be listening for in Haslam’s State of the State address by Erin Glenn, a U.S. history teacher at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts and Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
  18. An earth science teacher talks about the lesson that’s a point of pride — and pain a profile of Cheryl Mosier, a science teacher at Columbine High School.
  19. A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice: trusting kids to handle their bathroom business by Shanna Peeples, secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Amarillo ISD.
  20. How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate by Jean Russell, a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School,  2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year and TeachPlus statewide policy fellow.

First Person

I’m a black man raised on the mistaken idea that education could keep me safe. Here’s what I teach my students in the age of Jordan Edwards

The author, Fredrick Scott Salyers.

This piece is presented in partnership with The Marshall Project

I worry a lot about the students in the high school where I teach. One, in particular, is bright but struggles in class. He rarely ever smiles and he acts out, going so far recently as to threaten another teacher. As a black, male teacher — one of too few in the profession — I feel especially compelled to help this young black man reach his potential. Part of that work is teaching him the dangers that might exist for him, including the police.

The killing of Texas teenager Jordan Edwards proves, though, that it’s not just black boys with behavior issues who are in danger. Jordan — a high school freshman, star athlete and honor student — was shot dead by a police officer last month while leaving a house party. As he rode away from the party in a car driven by his older brother, officers who’d been called to the scene fired multiple rifle rounds at the car. One bullet went through the passenger window, striking Jordan in the head. Murder charges have since been filed against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

It’s a near impossible task to educate black children in a society that constantly interrupts that work with such violence. Still, it’s incumbent on educators like me to guide our students through the moment we’re living in — even when we can’t answer all their questions, and even if we’re sometimes confused ourselves.

I began teaching in 2014, the year the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice dominated headlines. The tragedies have piled on, a new one seeming to occur every month since I first stepped into a classroom. I currently teach ninth-graders at a predominantly black charter school in Brooklyn, and I often find myself struggling to make sense of the events for my students.

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them.

I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It’s instruction and advice that can feel pointless when a “good kid” like Jordan Edwards can have his life cut short by those sworn to serve and protect him. Still, I try in hopes that good grades and polite behavior will insulate my students from some of society’s dangers, if not all of them.

The Monday after police killed Edwards, I asked the students in my college readiness class to watch a news clip about the shooting and write out their feelings, or sit in silence and reflect. Many of them were already aware of what happened. I was proud that so many of them were abreast of the news but saddened by their reflections. At just 14 and 15 years old, many of them have already come to accept deaths like Jordan’s as the norm, and readily expect that any one of them could be next. “Will this police officer even be fired?” one asked. “Was the cop white?”

The young man I worry about the most was more talkative than usual that day. During the class discussion, he shared his guilt of being the only one of his friends who “made it” — making it meaning being alive, still, and free. The guilt sometimes cripples him, he said, and high-profile police killings like Jordan’s compound that guilt with a feeling of hopelessness. They make him think he will die in the streets one way or another.

I didn’t know what to say then, and I still don’t have a response for him. I’ve always taught students that earning an education might exempt them from the perils of being black in America, or at least give them a chance at something more. I was raised on that notion and believed it so much that I became an educator. But deaths like Jordan’s leave me choking on the reality that nothing I can teach will shield my students from becoming the next hashtag.

In lieu of protection, I offer what I can. I provide a space for my students to express their feelings. I offer love and consideration in our day-to-day interactions and do my best to make them feel seen and, hopefully, safe for a few hours each day.

Fredrick Scott Salyers teaches at a charter high school in Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. Find more of his work here.