Homework Cure: Change the System

The Real Value of Homework

There is a debate about the value of homework. The debate rages in school districts, states, faculty meetings and homes. There are parents who insist on homework and there are parents who feel homework is an unnecessary intrusion in their child’s life. There is no one solution. I recommend flexibility in the classroom and curriculum. What do we do if we are unsure of the value of homework? The following are some (not all) ideas to guide your thinking. If you want to change the system examine your cherished beliefs and promote flexibility in the classroom.

Question cherished beliefs like ‘School should be fun’.

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Homework Help for Parents

When you can’t change the system:

When you can’t change the system and your child has homework you have to examine how you feel about it and then find a way to cope with it. I’ll be dealing with homework from the teacher/school perspective in a later post. If your child is already a straight ‘A’ student you probably aren’t worried about homework other than the fact that the load might cause burn out. That’s a subject for a later post. Also I’m not going to be directly dealing with those families where the parents don’t speak English. That too is for another time.

Right now we are dealing with,
“My kid has homework. She needs help. What do I do?”

I know you’re busy. I know your time is valuable. So what do you do if you believe that at least some homework (practice, reenforcement, continued engagement) can have value. Don’t give up. Don’t despair. I’ll help you.

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Insulting the Teacher

7.21.15 ShoutMerely Vulgar or Is It Insulting?

Which matters more, who says it or how it is said? Many of our students treat us with love and affection – or at least grudging respect. But some do not. We teachers (at times) are subjected to all kinds of insults and vulgarities. In my last post, The Old Rugged Cross and the ’N’ Word, I wrote about the students’ constant use of the word ‘nigga’ and how I was repeatedly told, “We can say it but you can’t because of your color.” I warned that, although I was not advocating the use of vulgarity, making such a distinction because of race was a dangerous and outdated concept. But what about student vulgarity in general? When is it simple-minded, low-class behavior and when is it insulting?

I have been called just about every insult and/or compliment you can imagine. I’ve been called an asshole, a buster ass mark, a fool, a sycophant, Jubal E. Harshaw and Dad! My looks have been compared to every bald guy with a mustache from Dr. Phil to Sean Connery sexiest-man-1989-0r-2007(I have no problem with this last comparison!). The most shockingly vulgar insult I have ever heard from anybody came from the mouth of a second grader (I’ll spare you the vulgarity here because it isn’t necessary to quote it to make my point. If you really want the prurient details – write me at my contact page). But it really bothered me when I was called an old bald eagle. Why?

To examine if a word or behavior is insulting, I posed the questions earlier, does it matter who says it or how it is said? Let’s look at this symbol of honor used as an insult.

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The Two Worst Times

14 years oldHaving Trouble? Call Home!

Imagine I am a novice teacher. I’m having trouble with a student’s behavior. The kid is talking at inappropriate times, won’t take directions seriously – that sort of thing. Nothing dangerous, but still disruptive and/or disrespectful. I go to my principal (or my university professor) and explain the situation. What’s the first question they will ask? “Have you called home on the student?”

Calling home is the most often recommended behavior management tool we teachers are given. But I was (we are) never told what the given assumptions were with that advice. Nor was I told what to do if calling home didn’t produce any positive behavioral changes in the student.

Unspoken Assumptions

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Consequences: Parents #4

F does not equal BConsequences

What are the consequences of your actions? What are the results? Is it valid or appropriate to use the word consequences when talking about a child’s behavior or achievement in school? I used the word. You be the judge of the results.

The IEP Meeting

I got called into the IEP (Individualized Education Program) Meeting for Pablo. He hadn’t been previously identified as Special Ed. but his performance at school had been so dismal (failing grades in all his classes) his mother was certain that he needed to be labeled Special Ed. and given drugs to improve his grades. I disagreed.

I felt sorry for Pablo. He was lazy not Special Ed.. Yet here he was being hauled over the coals by four stern females (his mom, the school guidance counselor, his mom’s lawyer and a children’s advocate his mom also brought) while his mom insisted he needed medication. I was the only male in the room other than Pablo. I was the only one who saw his side of it.

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What Were They Thinking? Parents #3

Just Plain Crazy

I wrote about parents who are powerless with their children (Parents #1). I wrote about parents (and teachers) who seemed to be doing everything right and still their kids turned out evil (Parents #2). But what about the parents who seem to be just plain crazy?

[Disclaimer: Yeah. I know there are plenty of crazy teachers out there too and I wrote about one in What Happened To David but here we are talking about parents so keep an open mind and go with me a bit.]

Now I always try to keep an open mind when dealing with kids and their parents. You know my philosophy Watson, I believe that a teaching or parenting method that works for one might not work for someone else – that’s why I frequently recommend lots of different tools in the teacher’s toolbox. So, while it may be more than a bit judgmental and harsh to call someone crazy… there are times when I just had to shake my head in frustration and ask, “What were they thinking?”

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Where the Apple Falls: Parents #2

Fallen apples on the ground under a treeIt’s not about good or bad.

You’ve heard that old saying that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. You can be sure that there are teachers the world over who have rolled their eyes and echoed that apple/tree sentiment after meeting some kid’s crazy parents. We’ll talk about those crazy parents next time.

Right now I want you to think about the the kid who is an apple that not only fell far from the tree – it rolled downhill and across the street! What about the teacher or parent who seems to do everything right and the outcome is still sad, bad or worse (see also Parents #1)? This is a critical distinction for two very important reasons. It goes to the heart of what it means to be a good parent or teacher and it goes to the heart of teacher evaluations. That is to say, how do we teach about parenting and how do we evaluate teachers if it is possible to do everything right and still have it come out wrong? What standards do we use?

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When Good New Is Sad: Parents #1

A mother crying over her son the way many parents do.This is about the emotional toll of ‘Back to School Night’, and the fine parents I met there.  Fine parents?  Say what?  You thought I was going to go on about the crazy parents I’d met.  Let’s save that one (well – there’s a lot more than one).

So, what was the good news that was sad?  I’d be talking with friends and saying that last night was ‘Back To School Night’ and they’d ask, “How did it go?”  It was a good night when I could say, “It went pretty well.  I didn’t make anybody cry!”

I wasn’t trying to make anybody cry.  It’s just that sometimes an honest answer is… bad news – and too many times I’d see good, caring people (parents and kids) weep in pain and frustration.  For example:

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Drunks at School

Man drinking bottle of beerPeople often ask me if drugs were/are a problem at school.  I shock them by saying, “No, drugs aren’t a problem, they are a symptom of a problem or multiple problems.”  Then I add a second shock when I say, “And alcohol is the most abused drug I’ve encountered.”  So let me tell you about some drunks I discovered at school, what I told my students about it and the most outrageous true story of drunkenness that I have ever come across – how my brother went to sleep in his home and woke up in jail!

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Diploma vs. Education

4.15.16 The_Wizard_of_Oz_Ray_Bolger_1939Have you ever seen the 1939 MGM movie The Wizard of OZ (the one with Judy Garland)?  Does that sound like a strange question, seeing as The Wizard of OZ is generally considered as one of the best-known films in American culture?  I like to use it to teach but, believe it or not, most of my students had never seen it!  True!  I’d mention the Scarecrow from The Wizard of OZ when teaching the Pythagorean Theorem or the difference between a diploma and an education and my kids would look at me with expressions of confusion as genuinely muddled as if I had suddenly begun speaking Klingon.  Oh, my dear under-cultured children!  They also didn’t get the reference to West Side Story when I’d quote, “I’m depraved on account I’m deprived.”

You, however, have seen The Wizard of OZ (or even if you haven’t I’ll review enough for clarity) so let’s talk about what The Wizard of OZ can teach us about the difference between a diploma and an education.  This is important because here in Los Angeles (and I believe elsewhere) we are being told that high school graduation rates are up.  Sounds good, but don’t be fooled by this statistic.  It grieves me to say this but, getting a diploma does not always mean you got an education.

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