Carnival of Education 112

Good times at The Education Wonks.

It’s only fair to single out a post by Alexi, whose nom de blog is “Teacher With A Bad Attitude,” whose WordPress ID is “BadTeacher,” and whose carnival entry is entitled “I love homework.”

That’s kinda like, what, three strikes right there, right? I mean it’s hard for me to take anyone seriously who’s bending so far over backwards to cultivate this in-your-face, just-tellin’-it-like-it-is persona, but his counterposition to mine is mostly fair and certainly worth noting.

There are some assumptions I plainly disagree but, shoot, if you really don’t have enough time to “practice Mendelian dihybrid crosses,” then you have to send some home, I suppose. However, stuff like this always raises an eyebrow, sometimes two:

If you fuck around in class, don’t cry at me when you get to do that work at home. Nor if I throw in a few extra questions for good measure.

Putting aside the cheapness of his second sentence, I flatly disagree with the first. Specifically, I take exception with anyone who submits the idea that a class’ misbehavior is entirely its own fault. After “Tradition,” “Lousy Class Management” takes the top spot on the list of “Terrible Reasons to Assign Homework.”

Okay okay, so if we’re coming off an assembly the day before Spring Break, during which the rally coordinators threw concentrated sugar tablets into the crowd, after which the kids had lunch, and then your class, I might allow your assertion that your class’ misbehavior isn’t entirely your fault.

Any other day, though, I’m gonna point out that these are kids, you’re an adult, you can outwit them, and it’s simply unfair to oink up their free time with homework because you couldn’t keep them from fucking around in class.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. True.

    When I assign homework, it’s mostly because we can’t read and discuss everything in class. Since the discussion must take place in class, it’s often the reading they take home. That’s a huge battle I’m fighting and trying to sort out this year: how do we read and discuss in class? If we read in class, we spend the whole time reading. Then when do we discuss? Reading in class means at least 1 extra day for every short story we read, add several weeks to every novel.

    Still, much like where we left the NCLB discussion, the reasons you have for homework (or not) need to be sound. Assigning it as a punishment for behavior in class is irresponsible and completely without pedagogical foundation. If homework is to be assigned, it should somehow support classroom instruction. If it does anything else, rethink it. There’s a strong case to be made against homework. Maybe kids would like school more if there was no homework. Maybe teachers would be more focused without it, too.

  2. As an English teacher, I often feel guilty for not assigning much more than “read book 6 of The Odyssey and be ready to discuss Achaean gender roles and relations.” It’s almost impossible to get through a literature-based class without assigning reading to be done overnight. The books and short stories are just too damn long to be read in class. In this instance, I think of homework along the same lines as studying for a test–it’s preparation.

    Sometimes, too, I’ll ask that anyone who didn’t say anything in class write a quick blog entry about what’s on their mind after the discussion wrapped up, where they’d like it to go tomorrow, etc.

    I don’t, though, assign vocab sentences, fill-in-the-map exercise, or anything like that. Not even as punishment. I’ve found that the longer I’ve taught and the more confident I’ve become in my methods, the less I’ve had to even worry about punishment. In a high school like this one, where something like 140%* of students go to four-year colleges, the failing grades are punishment enough, especially for second-semester juniors and first-semester seniors.

    * This might be an approximation.

  3. We often read and write outside of class … not only do I not see an alternative, but I think it’s important to do so. It extends the conversations, and the act of reading and writing, beyond the classroom.

    That being said, I do my best to 1) ensure all reading and writing is worth the students’ time (i.e., nothing even resembling “busy work”) and 2) keep things balanced by considering other obligations and interests that occupy their after-school time. And never in punishment.

    What’s worse about “homework-as-punishment” is the negative associations it builds between the student and the work. When teachers assign an essay or some other kind of writing as “punishment,” it infuriates me. In one stroke of the pen, they wipe out months of effort I’ve been pouring into helping the student see writing as a source of pleasure and a chance for self-discovery and genuine communication.

  4. And it’s so tempting to do that sometimes, Eric. You get one of those days when no matter what trick you pull out the class won’t sit still–they’re touching each other, shouting across the room, displaying symptoms of advanced affluenza–and you just reach your breaking point.

    “One more word,” you hear yourself say, “and you’ll write an essay on this for homework. For a test grade.”

    And then you realize that you just said it in your head, that your internal monologue has remained just that, and you sigh, chalk up the day to spring fever or whatever, and maintain your sanity.

  5. Attaboy. I’m not sure that Teachers as a capital-T whole understand or appreciate the psychology of punishing a kid with a test or with homework or with an essay. I’m not sure I do fully, but I try not to be the sort who rejects these ideas as too touchy-feely or too coddling or who says, “the kids don’t mind,” or “the kids should be able to deal.”

    Anyway, for whatever a math teacher’s opinion is worth, I’m on board with Lit classes sending reading home. I’m not exactly sure why it seems definitively different than a math problem set, except that it seems an essential use of time as well as low-impact enough that I wouldn’t stress about kids maximizing the experience or botching the process.

  6. I fully agree that that second second sentence is cheap. Make that strike four. :)

    And I must admit that I want to believe that homework is both misassigned and largely useless. I’m going to read your earlier posting and try to make some sense of the larger argument.

    One counter to the “those who need it will do it, those who won’t, won’t” (paraphrasing badly, I know) is that homework completion (or lack thereof) still provides a record to indignant parents. At least this way a teacher can say “I assigned it, they didn’t come for help, or otherwise help themselves.” That makes it their problem, as a parent.

    As for classroom management, I’m afraid I’ve been misunderstood. My fault, I didn’t express myself clearly. I’d say (and others have said) that I have a great classroom situation. Lot’s of on task behaviour, lots of noise and confusion, when that’s appropriate.

    The “more homework for you” was really a bit of a throw away line, as you point out. (I save extra problem sets to the kidlets who point out my mistakes).

    And I entirely agree with your assessment that we should be able to outwit them. Most of the time.

    Thanks for reading and holding me to the standard!


  7. So you’re something of a conundrum then, aren’t you? A homework aficionado who acknowledges its abuse? I hope you’ll write about any preventative measures you take in assigning homework, as Jonathan did awhile back.

  8. I think I was pretty clear in stating my dislike for stupid work and other abuses. It’s a continuum, though; intransigent opinions on either side are not really helpful.

    Not that you’re intransigent or anything. :)