Is it worth it?


Walking to my room with my morning coffee in hand, I glanced up to see a colleague and a student standing at my door. A young lady in tears standing beside her. I thought to myself, The morning bell just rung. What  happened?  My colleague desperately asked if I had a free moment to chat with this distraught young lady. I quickly replied, “Of course”.

Together the young lady and I entered my room. Jazz was softly playing in the background, my small desk waterfall was running, and light shone from the lamps. The young lady sat down and let her feelings poor out.

It was about homework. She couldn’t complete it all. She doesn’t have a computer at home, which one of the assignments required. She did NOT want to come to school this morning. She did NOT want to get in trouble again. But she was here and she was in tears.

As I consoled her by sharing a similar time in my childhood and explaining that we will chat about this with her teacher, I couldn’t help but think about empathy. Empathy, the ability to understand and share feelings of another. Do we empathize enough with our students? Do we empathize with our students when we assign homework? Is what we hope students will gain from homework worth the feelings they create?

I don’t have the answers. Instead, I was left with a question. Is it worth it?

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Thirty-one days of stories.







11 thoughts on “Is it worth it?

  1. Such a touching story! You handled this young lady so delicately. I always try to take my time understand the point of view of an upset student. Thanks for sharing! ~Amy


  2. I work in a school where this is the same reality – where a little girl said she doesn’t brush her teeth everyday because she doesn’t have toothpaste. We need to find the empathy and ask what our true goals are. Thanks for writing this.


  3. Empathy is always worth it. Is homework worth it is definitely the question. I think there is a lot of value in teaching the organization and executive function skills that homework supports. As a language arts teacher, there’s also the necessity of reading books (etc) outside of class or we’ll never get to anything!

    But I do see the stress that so many classes and so many assignments have on my middle schoolers. It’s tough.


  4. Oh my gosh, Angela, I love this. I love how you included the description of your office and the details of the lighting, the music, the waterfall. It really helped set the tone for this piece and made me feel your calm demeanor when chatting with this young lady. I also love this because as a parent, I ask myself this all the time. Is it worth it? This is time when we could be playing a game or reading a book together or playing outside or chatting about our day… but instead, we’re doing homework that I really see no value in.

    I wish more educators would reflect on homework in this way.


  5. There was an article in the Washington Post not long ago about homework… your slice made me think of it. I love the description you write about your room. It sounds like an oasis of calm.


  6. Great post! I feel torn on the issue of homework. I teach primary and we have a ‘no homework policy’. Instead, we encourage ‘continuation of learning’ at home, based on our current unit. I tend to agree with this policy, but would have no idea how it would work in a middle school context.


  7. Yes, empathy, and people first. This was such a lovely slice. Sounds like this young lady was very fortunate to have stepped into your lovely bubble of calm on that particular morning.


  8. Thank you so much for sharing this experience! I hope others will read this and ask themselves the important questions you have asked here. I know I started to after I had the same experience with a student at my school. Check out these two books… The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn and Rethinking Homework by Cathy Vatterott. They will provide evidence for you to help you with your conversations with teachers about homework and if it is really worth it.


  9. Empathy is something I need frequent reminders of — I am good at being empathetic with students, but sometimes I need to be reminded to show empathy for those who aren’t clearly asking for it. I have to remember that sometimes brave faces need as much or more empathy than kiddos with tears. Thanks for sharing your post!


  10. You know it’s funny…before I had kids, I didn’t see how homework was so bad. I thought: they need practice, this is school, they should be doing homework! But now that I have 2 kids who are in activities and both my husband and I have activities and doctors appointments and meals to cook and a house to clean and and AND… It’s so hard to get homework done. Like Dana said, I would so much rather be taking my kids outside and playing with them with the little time I get with them each day. Now, luckily, most of the time, my son gets his done at daycare, but on the days he doesn’t, it is such a struggle.

    And also, so strange you wrote about empathy. This is a big thing we are working on with my son right now…


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