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Homework in the time of Corona

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It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of uncompleted homework.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’ve never been much of fan of homework, not as a child, not as a teacher and nor as a parent. It’s always seemed a quite unnecessary imposition. As a child, the ‘dog’ got to homework with unconvincing regularity. As a teacher I hated having even more marking to do. And as a parent, I just wanted to spend time with my children without papier mache art projects intruding. That was certainly the case when they were younger, anyway. After a hard week at work teaching other people’s children I just wanted to have fun with my own.

They’re older now. My eldest is (was?) in Year 11. The past few years had been building to an inevitable and dreaded conclusion which has just… evaporated. Her predictions and mock exam performance are not all she would wish for; she was really hoping to turn it all around in the final push. She now faces a summer of uncertainty to find out what next year will hold. After the initial disappointment, she found the first week of the lock down something of a joy. She spent her days composing music, making dresses, refurbishing a chest of drawers and even reupholstered a chair! But now she’s feel flat. There’s nothing left to do – no fabric to sew, no furniture to up-cycle. The last few days have been listless and spent watching Netflix. But she’s a resilient soul and I’m sure she’ll have come up with a plan before long.

My youngest is in Year 10. Her future is even more uncertain – no one has yet had time to consider what arrangement to put in place further down the examination line, but that’s not really a pressing concern for her yet. She has been struggling with her mental health for some time. Mid way through Year 9 we moved her to a new school because she was so unhappy. The new setting seemed to help: she reinvented herself as a drama bod and got the lead in the school play. After a few months she confessed that she hadn’t appreciated just how unhappy she’d been. We thought we were over the worst. But a few months ago things took a turn for the worse. One of the few bright spots in her life was school. Weekends were a nightmare and we often struggled to get her out of bed.

As it became increasingly clear schools would close, she retreated further into herself. She – and we – knew that the routine and structure of school was one of the few things keeping her buoyant and we all dreaded life in lock down. Her school have been fantastic at setting work, delivering lessons, making work, arranging tutor time conference calls and generally giving her a reason to get out of bed. Even so, she needs constant attention and encouragement to get on with it. Today is the last day of term and the the two weeks of Easter stretch before us. We are immensely grateful that her teachers have set her work to do over the ‘holidays’. It still going to be a struggle but the knowledge that there’s work to be done, and that for the brief periods whilst she’s wrestling with maths or German will be time she won’t spend staring into the void, are some small comfort.

This morning I said as much on Twitter:

Sadly but predictably, some people chose to take this as a criticism of… something. It isn’t. I have no interest in forcing teachers to work harder or compelling parents to blight their children’s Easter break with drudgery. I’m just grateful that my daughter’s teachers have given her a reason to get out of bed. If you personally don’t need the structure of homework over the next few weeks then I’m very glad for you. If you’re looking forward to two weeks in lock down, great. I wish you well. But for some of us, this particular school holiday is not one to which we’re looking forward.

That said, if your children have been set unwanted homework, don’t do it. If you’re worried that  doing homework will cause your children undue stress, just ignore it carry on with your wonderful lives. No one will care, least of all me. But please don’t get in touch to tell me that ‘only boring people get bored’ or that we should “get out the crayons and board games” or some other variety of trite, unthinking, empathy-less injunction to happiness.

This is uncharted territory for us all. None of us know what we’re doing and none of us know how this will end. Like everyone else, I’m trying to do the next right thing and am hugely appreciative of any help and support.

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