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February 08, 2013, Friday

Homework headaches

Like the majority of children across Turkey, my son has been out of school for the past two weeks for the winter holiday. Anticipating a long vacation to see friends, relax, have sleepovers and loll about in bed in the mornings, he was more than a little upset when the students were given their homework assignments for the break along with their report cards on the last day of school.

My son and I met with two of his classmates and their mothers for a celebratory lunch at the end of the school term. While the children talked and ate, the mothers and I looked through the files the students were given that contained their grades along with the homework list. At first, I was sure that I misunderstood the assignments due to a sudden lapse in my linguistic skills. Unfortunately, I was correct in what I thought had been assigned. We were all surprised at the volume of work that the children were expected to complete in two weeks. Included were four large workbooks filled with tests to be taken and scores checked as well as two books to be read and accompanying book reports written.

My son and his friends all howled in protest at the injustice of having so much school work that had to be done in just two weeks. According to their thinking, the break was a time to forget about teachers, assignments and tests. The heavy load of homework was seen as a horrible intrusion into their holiday plans. And so it was.

At first, my son and I sat down and planned out how many pages in the workbooks he needed to have completed each day and decided how many pages of reading in the assigned novels was acceptable. By our calculations, if he adhered to the schedule he would easily be able to complete all the assignments and still manage to find time to see friends and have some fun during the break. He began with good intentions, but, as happens many times, neither one of us remembered to figure in sudden invitations for sleepovers with friends and visits to see his father. Even though he took the workbooks and novels along with him for sleepovers, fully intending to sneak off for short periods to do a little school work, he quickly fell behind. Visits to see his father also added to the problem because even though they both set aside time to concentrate on the school assignments, they found other activities that took away from study time.

One week into the vacation, we laid the workbooks out on the dining room table and assessed the work so far. My son and I were disheartened to discover that our plans had gone seriously awry and he was far behind where he had planned to be. Attacking the assignments with a newfound intensity, he worked to complete the workbooks and finish the two novels, knowing that the deadline was looming and school would be back in session all too soon. With one week to go, he had a lot of work that needed to be done, but we still wanted some time to have some fun together.

It was not until halfway through this final week of the winter break that I was informed by a friend that the teachers did not really expect the students to complete all the work. A former teacher himself, he told me that it is common for teachers to load students down with homework assignments during the winter break. However, they know that only a handful will complete all of the work. Most, they know, will make an attempt to finish about half of the assigned work. A handful will arrive back in class not having bothered to do more than a few pages, complaining that it was too hard or that they had been too busy to complete it all. And, there are always the ones who will not have done any of the work, saying they had simply forgotten about it. Knowing this, he explained, teachers tend to give out a heavy load of assignments and hope that the majority of students find the time and motivation to complete about half of it.

After hearing this from my friend, I called one of the mothers who I know well and asked her if her son had completed all the assignments. “Well,” she replied, “he has finished most of it. I thought it was too much for him to have to do in just two weeks, so I think he has done enough. He read one of the novels and did a lot of the assignments in the workbooks.” When I told her that my son was hurrying to try and finish everything, she laughed and repeated the same thing my friend had told me earlier about teachers not really expecting students to finish all the assignments.

As I hung up the phone, I realized that I still have a lot to learn about how the school systems work here and the differences between the real and expected outcomes. My son is still working to finish the assignments, determined that he will have everything ready to hand in on time. Knowing from experience how easy it is for him to fall behind in class and how he has to struggle to catch up, he is resolute about trying his best to complete every assignment given. However, I think that we will take today off from school work and have some time to just relax, hang out and do something he wants to do with me in tow. He wants to complete all the work, but I think he also deserves time for fun. We're both still trying to find the right balance of fun, work and school.

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