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PRIMARY ADVICE / Busyness no excuse for skipping homework

By Helene J. Uchida / Special to The Japan NewsQ: How can I appease a mother who says her junior high daughter is too busy to do homework? She says if I force the homework requirement on her daughter, then she will quit my school.

M.K., teacher

Nagasaki

A: I am sympathetic to the challenging schedule Japanese adolescents have in junior high and high school. They are inundated not only with school classes and a constant array of tests, but also cram school lessons, rigorous club activities, social relations and parent/teacher expectations, which leave little time for their own personal interests.

As a parent, I vividly recall how exhausted my own son was when he was that age. He barely had time for family. It really made me question and criticize the system, which I learned I had no power to change. I was frustrated because I wanted what was best for my son. I understand this mother sympathizes with her daughter and wants what is best for her, too. She clearly thinks English is important enough to include it in her daughter’s busy schedule, so we have to appreciate the mother for that. But her demand that her daughter be treated differently from the other students, by being excused from the homework requirement, is unacceptable. All the students are in the same situation, namely being busy to the point of exhaustion.

We had a similar experience at our school. We explained it to the mother the following way: If the student has a private lesson (which is more expensive than group lessons), the mother is welcome to make suggestions in terms of focus of study, lesson plan structure, text, materials, lesson schedule, expectations, the issuance or non-issuance of homework and special requests. If the student is in a group class, then the student is an integral part of the class and is equal in value to the other members. The class rules, protocol, requirements and activities, including homework assignments, are meant for all students.

It would be unfair to say, “Junko does not have to do her homework because she is busy; but the rest of you do have to do your homework.” Displaying such favoritism would invite resentment and discontent — two elements we clearly do not want in a classroom. In addition, homework is an important supplement to the material covered in class. Homework gives the student chances to think in English at home, review English structures covered in class and open channels for free expression.

For example, at Little America, all our junior high school students receive a diary and have to write one page a week outlining one activity they did during the week. This activity creates a communication channel between the teacher and the student. The teacher receives information and makes comments in the diary directly to the student, which class time may not allow for. In addition, the teacher can correct English mistakes and consult with the student on how to avoid repeating errors. One interesting point about the junior high school diaries is that the students do not want their mothers to read them!

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Readers are encouraged to send questions to Helene J. Uchida on any themes related to teaching English — particularly those at the elementary and junior high school level — to jn-edu@yomiuri.com with “Primary Advice” in the subject line. Questions to Uchida are also accepted via postcard at “Primary Advice,” The Japan News, 1-7-1 Otemachi, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo 100-8055. Questions should preferably be written in English, accompanied by your name, occupation and the area in which you live.

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Uchida is the director of Little America, a Fukuoka-based company for training teachers of English.

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