Homework Dilemma

As a teacher, I feel that I should look at the grades of a class and examine the responsibilities of where the grades are coming from.  I cannot take the praise for the good grades without blame for the bad grades, despite how much I may rail against being blamed for students who do not care about homework, or refuse to make up missing work, or are absent more than they attend.  Sure, much of this is beyond my control, but it doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

Right now, I have one particular class period in which I am approaching a 50% failure rate.  Yes, every single student failing is missing work.  Yes, there are also some great students in the class.  So, should I change my teaching strategies for this class?

Part of me says no.  I’m not doing anything that hour that is different from the other class periods where I am teaching the same material.  Won’t I be hurting the education of the good students if I cater to the failing students?

And yet…I wonder.  Should I change?  If I see a problem this large, is it my responsibility to take it upon myself to change it?  I could eliminate homework from that class.  I could change my teaching strategies so that they only have to learn during the class period.  It might be awkward and difficult, but if so many of my students are failing, isn’t it my responsibility to remedy that?

Or would I be enabling them?  Encouraging them to continue skipping their homework and not trying because they know their teacher will make it possible for them to pass…  I don’t know.  It’s certainly worth considering, but I don’t know what the answer is.

I am the language lover and these are my thoughts.



  1. gls said,

    February 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    That would be enabling, no doubt. These students will not find “accommodating” supervisors and they need to begin accepting the fact that there are serious consequences for negligence.

    I have the same problem in my on-level classrooms. Ocasionally, I give them a way to pull up their grade through a bit of extra credit (extra practice on this or that), but by and large, I tell them, “Sink or swim.” I don’t give them homework every day; I don’t give them inappropriately difficult homework. There’s no excuse.

  2. February 27, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Thanks, gls. That’s my gut feeling, too. Here’s a question, though: What if 90% of the students were failing? Would I stick to my principles? What about 100%? At what point does the teacher have to make a change? Or is the answer never?

    This is what I’m wondering right now…

  3. gls said,

    March 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I had a class like that last year. I don’t know if it was 99%, but I do know that one quarter, something like 74% failed, and 100% of that 74% failed simply because they didn’t do the work.

    I think we’re battling more than just students’ lack of motivation as individuals. This is a cultural change, and it is brought about, in large measure, by how technology — MySpace, Google, and cell phones — is changing thinking. Instant “answers” from Google and such. I’ve had students tell me, “If I show you I can do the work on tests, then what’s the point of homework?” Well, among other things, to help you practice new skills so that you’re not just sliding by with D’s on tests.

    Maybe I’m just traditional. But I know this problem is something I’ve heard every single teacher on our eighth-grade hall complaining about.

  4. March 5, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I think you are right, gls. We need to try and figure out what this cultural change means for us as educators. As much as it pains me to admit it, I don’t think we can stick with our “sink or swim” philosophy. The trick is to figure out how to do that without lowering our standards.

  5. JB said,

    March 10, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    You pose a great dilemma. Our teaching group is battling the same question. We are duscussing the changing culture and lack of responsibility. I have stopped grading homework for part of the students grade. Homework is for practice. I grade almost entirely on tests and projects. When students score low on a test and ask why they did so poorly, I can ask them how much practice they have had(homework). Most say they won’t do it if it is not graded. When I graded it, most didn’t do it, and many had low grades because of it.

  6. Scott Erb said,

    March 29, 2009 at 1:22 am

    These cultural changes are being seen at the college level too. A difference we have is that our students usually want to be there, and if they don’t do the work it’s because they are being seduced by their freedom away from home to mismanage their time. But there is a sense of needing to give them a reason to think its important, which is the opposite of when I was a student and the reason it was important was because the professor demanded it. Yet the really good students (who perhaps had really good high school teachers) seem as good as ever, and today’s college students seem more focused on community and student activities than in the past (some too much so).

    By the way, I had been reading your blog, but as I got busy, especially when I took some students to Italy on a travel course (which I blogged during back on Feb. 12 – 23) I simply stopped reading a lot of blogs. I regret I hadn’t been reading yours the last month, these are interesting issues you touch on. I’ll keep checking back!

  7. March 30, 2009 at 3:08 am

    Thanks, Scott. Glad to have you back.

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