Tick-Tick Boom!?

in Editorials | May 5, 2023

Homework: everyone’s favorite aspect of Lawrenceville student life. By this point in the academic year, every student has become accustomed to the grind of pushing through three to four subjects of work for the next day’s classes. On the surface level, expectations for homework couldn’t be any simpler: a teacher gives a set amount of work to be completed by the next class period, and the student is expected to complete said work. Based on the difficulty of the course, standardized time limits dictate how much homework a teacher can assign on any given night. 500-level courses, for example, have a limit of 55 minutes worth of homework each night. None of this information should be new to any student on campus. We as a student body understand this. What we often don’t know is what to do when we surpass these time thresholds on homework assignments. 
It’s a situation nearly everyone on campus has experienced at some point. Your study hall doesn’t start until 8:45 PM because you needed time to unwind after your sports practice, and instead of having your homework done at 10:00 PM, it starts to stretch into 11:00 PM, and then 11:30 PM, and then 12:30 AM, all because your English homework that should have taken 45 minutes took 85, and all of a sudden it is 1:00 AM and you still have a math problem set to deal with. But don’t the time limits on homework exist to prevent these very scenarios in the first place? If homework is taking longer to complete than the time allotted for its completion, why don’t students just stop working on it, regardless of whether it is complete or not? The seemingly easy decision between doing homework and not is complicated by the fact that a strong understanding of the previous night’s assignments is baked into the fabric of most courses on campus. In many cases, students are expected to come into class ready to engage in deep discussions based on the material assigned the night before; some teachers even spend the full duration of class time reviewing the homework that was due that day. Students leaving portions of their homework unfinished are unable to fully participate in class, putting them at risk of falling behind in terms of understanding the course material and potentially jeopardizing grades when test time hits or when essays are due. All of these negative consequences only incentivize students to surpass the existing homework time limits. 
So while the choice to stop working on your homework once you’ve reached its allotted time limit exists, the plethora of negative consequences suggests that there ought to be better options out there, which again begs the question of “What should we do?” Communication between students and teachers is likely the best solution. While students may feel awkward admitting that they didn’t finish all their work, communicating that last night’s homework was unfinished makes the teacher aware and ask that an advisor could step in to relieve the pressure on the students. However, this solution does not necessarily prevent the problem from happening in the future, instead serving as a temporary fix to a larger problem. Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking what to do when we go over the homework limit, but rather, why do we go over the homework limit in the first place? 
When teachers assign homework for the night, their intention is to assign work that furthers students’ understanding that can be completed within the allotted time period. But when the assigned work ends up taking far too long, who is truly at fault?  Should we students look at ourselves and our study habits as the reason why homework takes us so long? If homework is routinely taking too long to finish, then perhaps some changes have to be made to how we approach completing our assignments. Maybe the solution resides not with taking more time on homework, but instead trying to make the most of the time that we are already spending. When teachers assign 50 minutes of homework, they assume that all 50 minutes will be spent 100% focused on the assigned task.  Perhaps we as students should limit outside distractions that hinder our ability to put our full attention into our work or try varying our approaches. 
But should the responsibility to fix this issue fall squarely on our shoulders, or should our teachers reevaluate their expectations and lower the workload for each night? One of a teacher’s most important jobs is to make sure their students have a good understanding of the course material. If the amount of work they assign is directly hindering their student’s ability to learn, then adjusting the workload makes sense. As alluded to earlier, the minute restrictions on homework assignments come under the unrealistic assumption that every minute students spend on homework is 100 percent dedicated to the assignment. This can lead to teachers overestimating how much work they can realistically fit into the time slot. It’s a big stretch to ask students to apply the same amount of focus to the readings they complete every single night as they would when taking a test worth 20 percent of their total grade.  
No matter what, homework is always going to be a vital part of Lawrenceville, and no one is asking for its removal. Conceptually, a time limit for homework is a very helpful rule that benefits students; however, students are routinely disregarding these time limits because teachers continue to overload their classes with coursework. Students and teachers must be on the same page regarding the balance between assigning reasonable amounts of homework and completing work in a timely manner.