An Open Letter To All Teachers Out There But Especially My Son’s

Attention All  Fourth Grade Teachers! (Although, with a few adjustments this could apply to all teachers.)

We, the parents of the children you teach, would like to be parents. And real estate agents. And contractors. And doctors and lawyers. Or advertising reps. Or designers. Or ditch diggers.

We did not sign up to be teachers.

Oh sure. We signed up to teach our children manners and respect. We teach them our religious beliefs and all about the birds and the bees. We teach them how to make their bed and throw a baseball.

All of the above and more fall into our job description as a parent.

It is not, however, listed anywhere in our job description that we must spend our family time with our child continuing the job you started at school.

We did not sign up for the two hour “homework” sessions after school, with detailed instructions for the parent on how to teach the reading comprehension assignment (which we have to sign, proving we completed it with our child). We did not ask for the solar system project where we had to teach our children the order and size of all the planets so that he, and by “he” I mean “I”, could show him how to build it according to scale ($60 later in supplies.)

And for the kicker that prompted my letter to you today, we did not and I repeat, we did not sign up to type any more papers. We have been there, done that. But when my dear son, my sweet, responsible, hard working, non-procrastinating son is practically in tears at the keyboard because it has taken him forever (and by “forever” in a 9-year-old’s perspective I mean “an hour”) to type a tiny portion of his story and I am tempted to jump in there and do it for him? I paused.

I shouldn’t have to type his papers for him. And he shouldn’t, at 9 years old, be expected to type his own papers if he hasn’t yet received the proper keyboarding instruction to do so, with plenty of practice so that he can proficiently type his own papers at a reasonable speed.

He is nine. He is a responsible, conscientious student. He starts assignments when  you assign them and works diligently until he gets it done. He is bright and doesn’t need busy work.

What my child needs, what any child needs, is time to play outside. Time to make brownies with their mom, learning (by accident) about fractions and degrees Fahrenheit. They need to be encouraged to read on their own but they should be allowed the free time to be read aloud to by their parent. When we’re working 2 hours after dinner on homework, there is little time left for Harry Potter before bed.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud your efforts in the classroom. I demand that my children respect you and your rules. They are expected to give 110% to their schoolwork. And I don’t mind running a few multiplication drills before dinner or quizzing him on his spelling words.

What I don’t understand is the assignment after assignment after assignment my 9-year-old child is expected to complete that he has neither the ability nor the life experiences to complete on his own.

Homework should be an extension of classroom material. Yes. But it should be, always and forever, commensurate with the maturity and the abilities of the child to which it is assigned.

If the parents are doing the homework, the child is getting the impression that he or she is inadequate. My son lamented, “Why can’t I type fast like you?” Uh. Because I had a typing class, for a full semester and I’ve been typing for years and years and have had plenty of practice.

Assign my child age and skill level appropriate homework. Work that my child is capable of completing on his own, with little parental intervention. Homework that reinforces what you’re teaching in the classroom, giving him additional practice. Work that allows him to explore and create. Bolstering his confidence when he finishes it all by himself. Allowing him to experience pride in his work, not someone else’s.


It’s all I ask.


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18 responses to “An Open Letter To All Teachers Out There But Especially My Son’s

  1. I feel your pain! We had the same issue with Miss D,’s teacher last year!

  2. Agree. As to the typing, silly requirement without having taught the necessary skills first especially for a 9 year old! Homework can be so frustrating. Our elementary school has a time per day for homework and does not encourage students to go longer. And sometimes, we held them to that. There were no adverse effects for our children.
    Here is my hint about typing that worked for us…
    Though typing was not a requirement for my son during his elementary school years who is now in grad school, I would have him dictate the assignment to me which I typed as he said, then had him do all the revisions and corrections with help if needed. It made our lives easier and he discovered writing was about ideas, not about the skill of handwriting or typing. Then he began to master the keyboard. And the bonus…it took a lot less time and had no tears or anger.
    Hope tonight goes better!

  3. As a gr. 4 teacher, I can appreciate the value of this feedback, though I daresay it should be addressed privately with the teacher and not publicly. She probably doesn’t read your blog so it may not solve your concerns.
    In my experience, students who needed to type their stuff at home were either very proficient typists who wanted to do this, or kids who wasted the five 40-minute computer sessions they were already given to finish typing their edited and revised drafts at school.
    Not sure what the situation is with your child but you may gain more insight by talking to the teacher than by lamenting it on here. 🙂

    • I hope I didn’t offend you personally. This was just an emotional rant after an emotional day. Rest assured, I did address this with the teacher privately and with a much more constructive tone. Thanks for your comment! I appreciate the “insider’s insight!”

  4. I think the ‘open letter’ part of the title made it clear that this wasn’t meant to solve the problem, merely articulate it. We’ve been pretty lucky with teachers, but I know others that have had similar problems to yours. I didn’t learn how to type until I was in high school – I can’t imagine a nine-year-old being proficient enough that the expectation to have papers typed isn’t punitive. I completely agree that what you’re talking about here is the teacher asking you to teach, and that is unfair.

    Related only slightly – we found some typing games online for my son when he was a similar age that he really liked – you type the letters properly in order to shoot down airplanes etc., and it really led to some fast improvements in his keyboarding skills.

  5. Amen!! I am always amazed at all the homework my little brother gets. All throughout his elementary school years it was always project after project. He’s in middle school now, but I wonder if this isn’t the reason so many kids hate school by the time they get to high school. As a teacher, I really do think you need to voice your concerns because they are completely valid. There are probably other parents at the school who feel this way. It is obvious that some of these teachers do not understand the purpose of homework.

  6. My children are now adults, but I experienced this same frustration with one of my children’s teachers. Said child was in the second grade, with two hours of homework every night – material not covered adequately in the classroom that was meant for me to teach at home.

    Who gives a second grader two hours of homework every day?

    Unfortunately, we stuck it out for one whole stressful year. It was a private school, so I withdrew my child at the end of the year, even though I hoped this was a problem specific to the teacher, but feared it was a philosophy and practice of the school.

    When faced with problems in the classroom (or homework), I addressed them with my children’s teachers (and even the principal on one occasion). The truth is that I often received sympathetic comments, but found nothing really changed. In fact, they like to blame the child (both of mine were honor students).

    Sometimes teachers just get it wrong, or they don’t have the gift, even if they have good intentions. I reassured my child(ren) that this failing was not theirs (the teacher expected too much), and I tried to encourage their confidence, while not demonizing the teacher – a delicate balance. Then I pitched in as much as I could.

  7. I have a confession: I am a high school teacher and I don’t assign much homework.
    My 5th grade son had a massive amount of homework last year in 4th grade. It was absolutely horrendous and most of it felt like busy work. Ugh. I feel your pain! This year is a little better, but still we have homework marathons for hours at least two nights a week. The cartoon says it perfectly – I cheer when there isn’t any homework!!!

  8. Have you seen this? Our local schools had a speaker come to the school last year – it was very interesting and eye opening. I can’t say everyone agreed with it, but it’s good to be having the conversation.
    I don’t know if it is a direct result of these conversations but this is the first year that we have not had stress and screaming about homework as the constant backdrop every evening. And my son, who had the worst time with homework and school, is so far getting as good or better grades without feeling like a failure. Bliss!

    • My sister (she’s a principal at an alternative high school) was spouting off statistics that were eye opening to me. One in particular is that there is no study anywhere that shows that homework translates to success in school or on standardized tests. She referenced this documentary but couldn’t remember the name. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

      • I’ve not seen the documentary or researched the stats but in my classroom, homework is never “new” work but merely incomplete work from the day (or week, or month), and the only time I send home “extra” work (and it seems to be beneficial) is when it is math review. Those basic number facts (particularly the multiplication/division basic facts) need lots of practice to “stick.” I suspect that when you see adults who cannot do mental math or who struggle with the number operations, it is because they did not really come to learn and understand the numeracy concepts underlying these operations while they were in school.
        Incidentally, I taught the lowest-achieving group of Gr. 4 math kids in our school. These were students who struggled to understand the relationship between the numbers, and who always needed extra time to do their work. When it came time for them to do the standardized tests for the province, every single student passed and several scored at the “mastery” levels. I attribute this success to theirs, and their parents’, hard work and “homework” throughout the year.

      • You’re welcome. I went to the talk – it was actually by one of the people in the video (can’t remember his name) and he mentioned the statistics around homework having no measurable benefit several times.

  9. This remains a constant struggle. I do believe that school has not kept up with the times and the endless battle about homework-As if 7-hours a day in school were not enough.

  10. Jayne

    Well said. On a general note – have you ever wondered about the modern idea of plucking children from home at the tender age of 4-1/2 (here in the UK), to teach them for nearly 7 hours a day (plus ludicrous amounts of homework) and then to almost require them to not only stay on at school until 18 but also preferably then go on to university? ..even if they are not academically gifted but may have a good business head and be terrific at crafting things with their hands?

    If you tot up an average of, let’s say, 9 hours a day in learning over their school + uni career, that’s one *hell* of a lot of knowledge. …Or should be. Universities (here, anyway) are having to give remedial lessons in English and maths and employers constantly complain of poor reading / spelling / mathematical and basic communication skills amongst newcomers and a workforce that seems unmotivated except to hold out their hands for a pay cheque at the end of the week.

    I’ve done this homework thing you mention and yes, when my daughter started at a high achievers school I found to my dismay that it was basically the *parents* who were doing the homework! Now tell me, what is the point of that?!

    All I can say is, I had a *much* easier time at school. Yes, when I took ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels I was working for many, many hours in the evening but up until about age 14 my homework was piffle (if I even had it – because I don’t remember it). If my parents had been required to provide input to this degree they’d have hot-footed it up to the headmistresses office p.d.q., wanting to know why the school was failing to adequately teach their daughter during a normal school day.

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