When I joined TFA and began teaching last summer, I accepted that this would be a difficult adventure. Teaching itself is terribly tough for any first year, let alone someone who has only recently begun to learn how. I knew I would struggle with classroom management. I understood that many of my students come from experiences and homes that I could never dream of. I also realized I would most likely face a lack of motivation from at least some of my students. But I didn’t realize that lack of motivation would be entirely my fault.
I hear stories from other corps members about their students who return home to their colonias and try to do their homework by candlelight because they don’t have electricity. I know I have a couple students myself who head home each day to take care of their siblings while their parents are at work. But a vast majority of my students have told me they head home each day to play video games or hang out with friends. So I have a hard time understanding how, exactly, they don’t find the time to complete any homework.
My school has created a number of “homework help” initiatives. We offer a 3 day late policy on every assignment. I am required to hold weekly tutoring sessions, as well as a specific “homework help” session meant purely for making up missed homework assignments. But, still, when I pass around the homework bucket in class it comes back nearly empty.
But the real kicker here is not that my students don’t complete homework. It’s that when they don’t turn in completed homework, the administration and parents come to me asking “why?” Why did they choose not to take the time to write? Why didn’t they bring home their library book to read? Why do they occasionally lie and insist they don’t have any homework to complete? (Oh yes, this has happened.)
Why is it my fault? I am more than willing to take the blame if a student doesn’t understand his or her homework. Maybe it was because they didn’t understand me in class, or I didn’t check for enough understanding. But my students aren’t coming in telling me they don’t understand. All I get is a shrug and an “oh well.” Because they know that they will not be penalized. They will receive a failing grade for all of two weeks. After that point, I will receive a call from the office or counselor insisting I offer a chance to make up the assignment. Usually they still do not complete their work, but if that grade doesn’t change I’m still held at fault.
It breaks my heart to realize that this has happened in education. Not just because it puts extra stress on me. But because my students will never learn true responsibility if they aren’t allowed to fail. They won’t understand the importance of hard work and how it is part of the path to success. We are supposed to be preparing our kids for the real world. Well, in the real world if you don’t turn in work or meet a deadline it’s not the boss’s fault. I’m terrified for the future my students will face if they continue as they have been.
But I’m even more terrified because I don’t know what I can do about it. And, I suppose, that is my fault.