Dear teacher, please stop giving my kid with learning disabilities homework

This mother says quit asking kids with special learning needs to play catch-up after school.

Photo: iStockphoto

Teacher—I know you want our daughter to catch up on all the work she couldn’t finish in class. But here’s the thing: she didn’t understand fractions at school, and she still doesn’t understand them at home.

But now this worksheet is due—for tomorrow—and my kid is afraid of your red pen. You have no idea how stressed she gets, because she tries to fly under the radar in class—it’s already mortifying to her that she can’t keep up with her friends. And here’s what she confides at home: She’s afraid that tomorrow she’s going to have to pass this homework assignment to the student behind her for marking, and that they will judge her. Or worse still, that you’ll tell her loudly in front of the class that she needs to re-do the entire thing, as you’ve done before.

I try to help her with the math, but you know what? Grade Six Math has changed a helluva lot since I was in school. It didn’t make sense to my kid when you explained it the new way; it doesn’t make sense to her when I explain it the old way; and now she’s doubly confused, and she says she hates school.

Both of us hate school right now, as we watch the clock counting down the minutes to bedtime. I wonder how long it will take our daughter to pick herself up again, because her French teacher has also assigned homework, and at this rate the kid’s going to have to stay up long past bedtime. I’m already bracing myself to write the hundredth note this year explaining why my child didn’t get her homework finished.

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She looks desperate. I sigh, then I do that thing I never thought I’d do before I got so desperate too: I complete her homework while she watches, all the time hoping something will sink in. It doesn’t.

I shouldn’t be doing her homework for her, you say. Well guess what? I’m doing the d*mned homework because there are not enough hours in a day for my daughter to get the d*mned homework anywhere near done, and because even though I’ve sent you all those notes, the d*mned homework just keeps coming. (Confession: my daughter did not learn to swear on the school yard; she learned it doing homework with me.) Truth be told I’m also worried I’ll look like a bad parent—like I don’t value education and like we all just sit around at home watching TV—if she returns to your class empty-handed.

With her learning disability and processing disorder—you know, as detailed in her IEP, which also recommended no homework—she’s already twice as exhausted as the average kid her age by the time she gets home from school. Homework doesn’t help her catch up, because her brain is MAXED OUT. All she wants to do at this point is throw her head on the table, curse and run away. (Sometimes I want to do the same.)

But instead I’ve been doing a little homework of my own. It turns out that Dutch, Japanese, and Finnish students my kid’s age get little to no homework, and yet they excel. The “2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study” stated that doing a cr*pload of homework didn’t translate into academic success. In The End of Homework, scholars Etta Kralovec and John Buell argue that relationships, exercise, and hobbies are all neglected when homework is given priority. In fact there are many, many studies saying homework is detrimental to the neurotypical kid—so think what it’s like for a kid with extra challenges.

So if you don’t mind, dear teacher, I’m going to make a few suggestions for homework, going forward. Please assign: swinging on swings; doing arts and crafts with siblings; reading and cuddling with parents. Or assign some real-life skills. My child won’t be going to college, so let’s drop the equations already and have her learn the recipe for her favourite dish or how to rakes leaves and contribute to family life. Give her the chance to feel good about herself for those two precious hours between dinner and bedtime.

We’re not saying we wouldn’t be willing to take on the occasional research project or that we’d be against memorizing a poem now and again, but if you could just spare us the daily homework, our family life would be transformed. And your name might even be uttered with reverence, instead of muttered in between expletives and headbanging on the desk.

Yours,

A fr*%kin’ fed-up mom

Read more:
Is there a better way to integrate kids with special needs into classrooms?
5 ways to advocate for your special needs kid

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