Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 6: Ditch Homework

teacher burnout

Homework: It’s as American as apple pie, baseball, and crushing consumer debt.

But why do you assign it? Have you really thought about it, or are you assigning it because you think it’s expected, or because parents might think you’re “easy” if you don’t, or because your principal wants you to, or because it’s just what teachers do? You had it. Your kids have it. Why shouldn’t your students?

I don’t know whether homework “works” or not. There are all sorts of studies that people on both sides of the argument cite. I do know that grading it is a huge waste of time. There are only three reasons to grade student work:

1. to assess students’ learning in order to adjust instruction or intervene with students who don’t understand

2. to provide feedback to students on their work so they will use that feedback to improve

3. To report a grade that represents student knowledge or skill acquisition

Grading homework doesn’t do any of the above.

Once the work goes home, you have no idea who actually does it. You therefore have no clue whether the information you receive from grading it has any validity. A student who completes the work correctly may need more help, but you’ll never know because her brother did it for her. A student who understands the concept perfectly may not have completed the assignment at all because a.) it’s a waste of her time or b.) her parents weren’t around to make her do it.

Most students don’t care about your feedback once the work is done. For them, the assignment is over.  All of those comments you wrote in red ink might as well be invisible. Some teachers try to get around this by allowing students to improve their grade by fixing the areas in need of improvement. Whether you make this voluntary or required, most students balk at the offer. It’s like telling a chef who has prepared a meal to re-season the food and stick it back in the oven. They could, but they’ll resent it, and you probably still won’t love the final product anyway.

It’s wrong to use homework for report card grades. Grades should be summative. Homework is supposed to be practice. Practice is for getting better so that when the game is played we have a chance of winning. Practice is for making mistakes and learning from them. Students shouldn’t be punished for doing the very thing they’re supposed to do when they practice.

If you’re including homework as a factor in your students’ grades, you might very well be grading your student’s mother. Whether or not the homework gets done is more a reflection of the student’s family and not the student. Students shouldn’t be rewarded or punished based on how well or poorly they did in the parent lottery.

Maybe you’re assigning homework as a way to teach responsibility and time-management skills.  First, you should know that no study has ever been conducted to see whether homework increases students’ responsibility. Second, even if you believe that homework teaches important soft skills and keeps parents informed, you have to consider the trade-offs. Teachers complain about giving up hours of their personal time to grade student work, but don’t think twice about eating up students’ and parents’ nights assigning the stuff. Time spent on homework –for all parties involved — is time not spent on other things. 

I could go on, but so many other people in education already have. If you want more information check out the following three books, which go into much greater detail on why teachers should stop assigning homework:

Ditch That Homework

The Case Against Homework

The Homework Myth

Since this is a series for teachers who want to avoid burnout by cutting hours off their working career, let me be blunt. Even if you require homework (or your district requires you to assign it), you shouldn’t be grading it. Check it in or just throw it in the circular file. Don’t waste time on it because it doesn’t give you useful information. Getting rid of homework is an easy way to cut hours off the amount of work you take home, and it’s easily justified.

My personal feeling here is that if you’re not going to look at it (and there’s really no reason to, except guilt), then you shouldn’t assign it in the first place. If you don’t assign homework, you don’t have to grade it. Choosing to not assign homework is the easiest way to cut the amount of work you take home at night. You want your nights for yourself. That’s why you’re reading this series. Your students want their nights for themselves, too. So do their parents. Save them, and yourself, the time. Just ditch the homework.

If you’re interested in a more comprehensive program for cutting hours off your teacher workweeks, check out Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club (affiliate link). You’ll get weekly emails for a whole year that will help you focus on what really matters so you can do less, better.

All of the articles in this series:

Part 1: Why Teachers Fail to Protect Themselves

Part 2: Making a Plan

Part 3: Say No

Part 4: Slash Your To-Do List

Part 5: Optimize Planning Time

Part 6: Ditch Homework

Part 7: The Common Core Advantage

Part 8: Leverage Technology

Part 9: On Writing

Part 10: Use Class Time

Links to the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club are affiliate links.

2 Replies to “Preventing Teacher Burnout – Part 6: Ditch Homework”

  1. I stopped assigning homework last year and I won’t go back. I honestly didn’t see a difference in my students’ achievement and their attitude was so much better toward school!

  2. I stopped assigning homework years ago when a teenage boy told me (after I fussed at him for not doing his Spanish homework) that he hadn’t eaten in three days and my homework was the least of his worries.
    We really don’t know what kind of home life our students have. I’m not going to add more stress to an already difficult time in an adolescent’s development.

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