In this regular column Rachael Harris gives you her perspective of issues that concern all parents, and teachers. As a member of both camps she will share her insights into what teachers really want and mean.
Rachael has two children aged twelve and fifteen, she has taught English in primary and secondary schools for over fourteen years. For the last nine years she has been teaching at Lycée Rodolphe Töpffer, where she coordinates the Advanced English Programme for native speakers and Cambridge examinations.
As a teacher I totally agree with regular homework, setting exercises to be completed out of class is the equivalent to adding a couple of hours a week to my programme. Homework is a way to revise and consolidate the learning that takes place in the classroom, ideally it levels the playing field by enabling those who need more time to learn to take that time in their own homes and arrive prepared for the next class. It means regular contact with my subject, something seen every day or so is going to sink in quicker and further than something only studied once a week for example. Homework is a way of bringing school home, and vice-versa, it makes school an integral part of life, not just somewhere a child disappears to for most of the day. Homework is also a way to start a conversation about school, we all know that the answer to “What did you learn today?” is “Nothing”, however the answer to “tell me about this homework?” can be more revealing.
As a parent – I hate it! It takes up precious family time and turns me into a nag, “Have you done your homework?” will be engraved on my tomb, along with “It’s where you left it”. Homework always seems to involve printing something just when the printer has died, or reading some book that has been left at school. It’s hard finding time for homework, straight after school my kids are exhausted and need some down time, but how much downtime? If we don’t start soon then it will spill over after dinner. If you can get your children to do their homework on Friday night, then all I can say is “wow”. It’s no wonder we dread Sunday evening, it’s not the thought of work on Monday, it’s discovering that we have a pile of exercises to get through and have to find cardboard, string and a photo of them as babies that is terrifying.
The secret, that many parents don’t realize is this; teachers don’t expect sheets of perfect exercises, we don’t want your child to go to bed at midnight in order to complete list of verbs. Personally, I would be, and am, satisfied with your best attempt. By “you”, I’m actually talking to my student, that’s another thing teachers don’t appreciate, there’s absolutely NO POINT in a parent doing the homework, even if the child copies it afterwards. I would prefer a piece of work with plenty of mistakes; this gives me an idea of what I need to go over again. Don’t forget that F.A.I.L. means “first attempt in learning. What I want is for my student to look over what we learnt in class in order to complete the homework, and by doing so, realize what he doesn’t understand, and come to class with plenty of questions.
I do expect some evidence that homework has been attempted, an empty page and “I didn’t understand the exercise” doesn’t cut much ice with me, surely you could have written the title, and a few phrases? After all homework on a subject that is completely new is pretty rare. Also, as a language teacher I expect complete phrases, written on paper, noting “am, is, are, isn’t, “ in the textbook doesn’t substantiate learning in the same way as writing the whole phrase. I’m sorry, I know it’s boring but by writing “I am happy” you learn that “I” and “am” are linked in a way that you won’t learn if you just fill in the gaps.
Finally, I don’t really appreciate notes from parents explaining how some event prevented little Jo from doing his homework ( that had been set the week before), not only does it undermine me in class, but I also know that in the time he spent begging you to write the note, he could have actually made a pretty good effort at doing the work itself.
Homework, is just one of so many areas where school and home work best together, so if you have any doubts or questions, then ask your child’s teacher – there’s usually a simple and logical reason behind everything they are asked to do.
We’d love to hear your opinions on homework, and any other subjects that concern both sides of the fence.