Here you go, another ‘It’s My Life’ story from my weekly column in the Irish Examiner’s Feelgood. My rather personal take on homework.
The other day, in a moment of madness, I sat down to help my daughter with her ‘homework.’ This wasn’t what you’d imagine as she is not a pupil of any school, but a teacher. She had a bag full of handwriting copies, which were blank. My job was to dot a page with small and large ‘t’s, to help little hands learn what to do.
Thereafter the nightmare began.
Within minutes, a childhood of poor writing and endless mistakes came tumbling back. Never a child to pay attention to detail, I started on the wrong line, forgot to leave the space of one finger between the letters and my ‘t’ was more ‘l’ than ‘t’.
As the sound of my children’s laughter at my errors distracted me, I tried harder, concentrating so hard I noticed my tongue was permanently poked in my cheek. With my hand paining me, I paused a moment to check my handiwork, only to discover I’d been so busy trying to get the letters right I’d actually completed the work and left nothing for the young pupil to do.
Defeated, I tore out the page as my other daughter showed me the ten pages she had done perfectly in the same time.
“Forget it,” I said, theatrically flouncing out the door, “I’m useless at letters.”
It reminded me of the many hours of my life I’d supervised my children’s homework, often with at least one meltdown, and that wasn’t always from one of the children.
So, was it worth it? Do I look back and think, wow, I’m so glad they spent all those afternoons of primary school doing homework?
No. My attitude to homework continues to be hostile.
Because I minded other children, most days there were a minimum of six youngsters doing homework around my kitchen table. As in any house, there were a few who could sit down and finish in minutes, while others might still be sitting there if I’d not said time up.
Thursday’s were a nightmare, of not only homework but preparation for Friday’s big spelling and maths tests. With dyslexia a feature in our house, spellings and tables were not our strengths. After almost ten years of homework I was close to surrender with child number six.
“Did you get any right?” I asked one Friday.
“Yep,” she said, showing a copy with one tick out of ten in English and two in Irish. Her tables were tickless, the teacher’s kindly way of marking them incorrect. Something snapped in me. What was this telling her every week? After all she’d spent as long as the others ‘learning’ them?
The following Thursday I rebelled, against a system which I felt was doing her no good.
“Let’s do an experiment,” I said, “no spellings this week and see how you get on.”
Needless to say she was delighted with this proposal. As she ran off, I wondered if I was imagining an extra skip to her step. The following day she returned home,
“Well?” I asked.
“Four out of ten in English and three in Irish,” she beamed, “does that mean we’ll experiment again next week?”
“It sure does,” I said.
The experiment lasted throughout her final primary school years. I’ve yet to publish my findings but I suspect if I were to collate all the data, it would say it did her no harm.
I also suspect that not doing any homework would have had similar results, but that’s an experiment I will have to leave to the next generation.