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Rich Henderson's Diary
The First 180 Days

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Rich Henderson, a lawyer, always dreamed of being a teacher. Last year, he gave up his law career and returned to the classroom to earn his teaching certification. This year, his dream finally comes true in a fifth-grade classroom in suburban Woodbury, Connecticut. Each week during this school year -- Rich's first year in the classroom -- he will share with Education World readers his thoughts and feelings about his first 180 days!

Rich's Diary: How Much Is Too Much?

Week 17

You can't please everyone. You just can't. I know that sounds rather basic, but sometimes I just need to remind myself of the near impossibility of pleasing everyone I come in contact with. I admit that as a first-year teacher, I have tried to please various groups of people. It's simply a part of who I am. But this week, the difficulty in pleasing others became clearly evident.

Homework. Too much or too little, that is the question. If Shakespeare wrote a play about teaching, homework would be the question. For a teacher, homework serves as a valuable tool in assessing a student's understanding and application of the subject matter. For a student, it provides an opportunity to practice and apply what was discussed in class.

At Mitchell Elementary School, each grade level has a homework policy. The policy indicates the approximate amount of time students should be spending on their homework on a daily basis. Each fifth-grade student should have about 45 to 60 minutes of homework each Monday through Thursday night. Other than special projects, teachers do not assign homework for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So as I plan my lessons, I keep in mind the school district's homework policy, especially the amount of time that each student should spend on homework assignments.

This week, I was faced with two concerns from parents regarding my homework assignments, each within hours of the other. One parent was concerned that her child was not receiving enough homework, and the other parent was concerned that I was giving too much homework. Although I am thankful for the parental feedback, I am a bit stumped as to the polar concerns revolving around the same issue. What do I do? Any change in the amount of homework, whether more or less, would be in complete contradiction to one parent's concerns. If I do nothing, I appear to be ignoring both parents' concerns. Perplexing, isn't it?

What I have decided to do is investigate the issue. I plan to talk to my students to find the answer to this question: Why is homework taking too long or not taking long enough? As I find an answer to this question, I believe that I can then address the issue of the amount of homework in a more productive manner. Until that is accomplished, I am maintaining my current homework assignments.

It's impossible to please everyone. However, what's not impossible is trying to understand everyone. That is what I am trying to do with the issue of homework. By gaining a better understanding of my students and their concerns, I can help resolve the homework issue and, perhaps, other issues as well. If I can do that, then at least I will be satisfied knowing that I helped my class -- and that is pleasing to me.

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Rich Henderson
Education World®
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01/11/2001