As a middle school principal, I talk a lot. Meetings, check ins, phone calls, and informal conversations make up most of my day. One common topic that I face in talking with students, staff and parents is missing assignments. Why some children choose to do their work and others do not is a timeless question for our profession, particularly at the middle level.
Before I get to it, a disclaimer. If you’re reading this and you are a teacher, I know you work hard and are dedicated. The following isn’t an indictment, it’s a report of trends that I hear and a call for us to face a few hard realities.
Another disclaimer, if you’re reading and you’re a student, you’re not absolved. Sometimes, doing our jobs means doing something difficult or that pushes us out of our comfort zone.
Having said that, the most common reasons I hear for students not doing their work are:
“It doesn’t matter”
As a teacher, you are the formal leader of your classroom. People need to trust that their leader believes in them and wants them to succeed in order for them to work as hard as they can. Teachers who know their principal supports them will work harder, take on more tasks and put in more time. Often, students who are not doing their work are making a statement about their perspective on their relationship with their teacher.
“There is no point”
As Daniel Pink tells us, people are motivated to do work that has a purpose. Students who are not doing their work are making a statement about their perspective on the relevance of a task.
“I don’t get it”
To paraphrase Ken Blanchard, take a minute and walk past a gym class. You’ll see students who don’t do their math homework totally engaged in the soccer game. Why are they so focused in gym, but not in math? Part of it is the physical activity, but the biggest gap is that students know what success looks like in kickball. They know where the “goal” is. Students who are not doing their work are making a statement about their perspective on how loose or tight the requirements are for a given task.
We should NOT totally eliminate homework, refuse to have high standards, or not give tests.
We SHOULD consider the above items and remember to have build relationships, and have clarity about relevance and learning targets on the assignments we give.