Teachers: Do Your Job at School, and I’ll Do Mine at Home

Why do our kids’ elementary school teachers stash those homework notes for us in our kids’ backpacks?

Yes, I agree, kids in the first few grades aren’t responsible enough to consistently complete homework assignments on their own.

However, the notion that teachers can’t do their job well unless they give homework is just plain wrong. Furthermore, it’s tragic and foolish that teachers are assigning homework to kids as early as kindergarten.

Sure, these notes start out nice and all. “Dear Parent, We’re doing such great things here!” But then, the assignment comes: “For next week, your child should blah-blah-blah. You can submit this to dowhatisay@weknowbest.org.”

I don’t know about you, but I was never great as a kid at following very detailed orders from an authority figure. Now, well, it just doesn’t happen.

I had to do some soul-searching when I first saw one of these, though.* Maybe I should reconsider my gut reaction for the sake of my first grader, Marco. After all, I didn’t like changing diapers with poo at first, either, but I now agree that kids shouldn’t walk around all day with poopy diapers, so I just suck it up and do it.

So, I thought about what schools ask of us:

“Get your kid to school every day on time.” OK, I can deal with that.

“Make sure your kid’s well-fed, bathed, happy, and conscious when he or she gets here.” Sure.

“Teach your kid good values so he or she doesn’t treat other kids like a jerk.” Check, that’s my job.

“Your child will create a three-dimensional model of one of the seven natural wonders of the world by Friday. He or she will get 20 extra credit points if the exhibit can show how climate change is endangering the wonder’s long-term sustainability.” Uhhh, f___ y__.

Now I understand what pisses me off about this note-to-parent-about-homework thing. It infringes on what I believe to be an important boundary between teachers and parents, between school and family life.

Ideally, we should have a peer-to-peer division of labor. Teachers should do their job well at school, and I should do mine well at home.

So, when I get one of those notes from a teacher, I feel like the teacher is treating me like an employee, guilt-tripping me into wasting my time. It also implies that the teacher’s job is more important than mine.

I strongly disagree with the latter notion. Parents have a very important role in their children’s education, distinct from that of teachers at school. Teachers’ primary job is to teach more formal things like the three R’s. This is very difficult work, and teachers who do this well are worth their weight in gold. Really.

Parents’ primary job is to teach life concepts and skills like values, responsibility, and social skills. Because our home lives are less structured than school (I hope!), home is also the best place for kids to exercise their creativity and apply it to real world problems.

Sure, there’s going to be some overlap, just like there is in any two peer-to-peer jobs. Peers at work have to communicate well and they have to cover for each other once in a while.

However, these teachers’ notes to parents aren’t peer-to-peer.

We parents need to stop accepting the role of teachers’ aides, and instead we need to take more seriously our job of teaching values, responsibility, social skills, and creativity at home. Our kids need this help desperately, far more than they need more schoolwork.

* Actually, Marco goes to a low or no homework school, so he’s yet to be assigned homework there. Instead, I’ve seen these notes coming from a teacher of an afterschool activity. From many conversations with other parents whose kids have homework, though, I’ve learned that sending these homework notes home is very common for teachers.

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