When Rabbi Tarfon taught: Lo alecha ha-malacha ligmor (Avos 2:16), he might not have had homework in mind. If the alecha is you, the parent, it certainly applies.
Now that the midsummer nights they dream about all year are over, our children are back in school. One local Yeshiva’s science teacher welcomed his students back with this missive to their parents:
I hope this email finds you well.
It was really nice seeing the boys back in school, and I actually heard one boy admit that to another. Don't worry, not your son.
We are continuing our unit on weather, and have spent some time learning about relative humidity. Attached please find tonight's HW sheet on the concept of dew point.
There is not much prior knowledge needed to complete this, so I hope this was not difficult. The one point that was emphasized in class, and will be reviewed tomorrow, is that "Dew point is the temperature at which the relative humidity equals 100%. If temperature and dew point are the same, humidity is 100%." (Read twice, make a confused face, and say "whatever".)
As a reminder, HW should be capped at a maximum of 15 minutes, and being that not a lot of time needs to be dedicated to this assignment, excuses are not anticipated, although they are always interesting to hear regardless.
Additionally, please do not do the work for your son, you (should) have already served your time. The mark that you will get for doing this will also not be able to be transferred to your 6th grade report card, so don't bother.
I like this teacher’s attitude.
The key to success for every child in every situation is to meet an expectation. Homework is no exception. In order to help children succeed at homework, rebbeim, moros and teachers need to make their expectations about each homework assignment clear.
Homework should be a measure of a child’s success at meeting an expectation of the mastery of some skill. Homework can be used as a measure of recall of material taught, but that is not the only skill that homework can measure. Homework can measure other skills as well.
Here are three possibilities:
Recall/Review: Does a student remember what was taught? Does he or she understand it well enough to tell it over?
Discover/Research: Is the student being asked to learn something new on their own? Is the student able to access resources and express what they have found?
Extrapolate: Can the student derive additional information from material that was taught?
If many students are struggling in one of these three areas, the teacher will know what to work on with the class.
All of this is predicated on the assumption that students will do their best to complete their homework. When children don’t attempt to complete their homework to the best of their ability, the resulting measurements will be inaccurate. Homework can only measure competence, not compliance.
Parent: Really? If a child’s homework is incomplete and appears to have been done carelessly, that’s not a measure of non-compliance?
Me: Not necessarily. Don’t jump to conclusions. That child clearly did not meet the homework expectation but the child hasn’t been asked what happened that prevented him from meeting it. Something made have caused him to be incompetent even it he has done well with similar material in the past.
Parent: So now the parents have to ask the child what happened in order to determine whether the child was incompetent or non-compliant?
Me: The parents? I would prefer that the teacher pursue homework issues, not the parents.
Any issues arising from the homework expectation should remain between the teacher and the student.
Homework is not the same type of school-generated expectation as, for example, a dress code. Children are not expected to buy their clothing. Parents are expected to meet that expectation when they buy their child’s clothing.
Homework is an expectation that should not be met by parents. Parents should not be expected to help their children with homework or address issues of homework non-compliance.
Parent: Did I read that right? Do you believe that parents should not help their children with homework?
Me: Yes, you read that right.
When a parent helps a child with homework the result is not an accurate measure of that child’s competence. Teachers need to discover their students’ capabilities, not those of their parents.
Parent: So parents have no role at all when it comes to homework?
Me: The role of parents is to provide a comfortable place, free of distraction, where each child can study and do her homework.
Parent: Does “free of distraction” mean I should stop my daughter from listening to music through her earbuds while she’s doing her homework?
Me: If, al pi darcha, she can focus as well or better when the music is on, leave her alone. What is a distraction for you might not be for her.
If a child chooses to do homework carelessly or not at all, that is a concern to be addressed by whoever issued the unmet expectation: the teacher and sometimes the hanhala. If a teacher or hanhala member doesn’t know how to work with a non-compliant child, he or she should seek outside guidance.
Parent: What if my child comes to me and asks me for help. What should I say?
Me: For each teacher’s homework, help your child occasionally. If your child repeatedly needs help with a particular teacher’s assignments, call the teacher, explain the situation, and ask what they could do to help your child become able to succeed at the homework without your help.
Tell your child when you are going to be calling the teacher to ask about the homework that is too hard or too much for your child. Ask her if there is anything in particular she would like you to say to her teacher. Explain to your child that part of education is learning to seek help from the most appropriate source when you need it. You may be a more convenient source of help. Her teacher is more appropriate.
If your child is reluctant for you to speak to her teacher and she will not tell you why, you may need help. For your child’s sake, get the help you and she need.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.