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Missing Work

When I first became a student teacher in 1996, I was shocked by the number of students who didn’t turn in homework. I always did my homework in school. In fact, it never even occurred to me not to do it. Nineteen years later, I am not so much shocked as I am disappointed.

In a sixth grade class of thirty or so students, I usually have three or four with serious homework completion issues. There are also three or four who never have any missing work at all, and a few whose problem is just a missing name. Over the years I have printed and emailed missing work reports. I have asked the student for the work. Repeatedly. I have yelled, begged, and discussed. I have referred students to Homework Club. Never have I succeeded in making a habitual missing-work student turn in any work. I have, however, heard some creative excuses.

“I didn’t know it was due.”     Assignments are posted on the board in the classroom and on the class web page. Students all have planners, and as a self-contained class I can make sure they write down homework at the end of every day.

“I forgot my book.”     Most of the textbooks are online now. Students still lug a backpack full of books home, out of habit I think. It won’t be long before online textbooks, with their homework help features, are the only ones used.

“I didn’t understand.”     Not all students master a lesson the first time around. In my classroom, students have time to start all assignments in class so they have an opportunity to ask the teacher. They can also email me or message me on Google Classroom any time. Most of my assignments are not due immediately but in a few days, next week, or even the end of the month. There is time to ask a question.

“I didn’t have time.”     And this is the most telling excuse of all. What it really says is that the student prioritizes homework lower than TV, video games, playing with friends–anything else that can be done between 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. the next day. What it really says is that the student doesn’t care enough to get it done. This is so frustrating for the teacher who plans, prepares, and teaches the lesson. Now the class moves on and the student with no homework done is quickly lost. Before long, as lessons build on one another, the student who chose not to do the work is no longer able to do  it.

What’s the solution? That’s not for me to decide, and it’s not for parents. In sixth grade, a student is old enough to be responsible for homework. Students need to keep track of assignments and monitor their grades closely. If the student sees missing homework, the student needs to deal with how to get it done. Parents who fail to insist on homework completion, and teachers who let it slide, do no favors for their students. My sixth graders will enter middle school next year. They will have six different teachers and no one to tell them to write down homework. Now is the time for them to learn responsibility.

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