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Teaching Tips & Tricks, Uncategorized   |   Jan 4, 2012

Why I don’t believe that school is a child’s most important job

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Why I don’t believe that school is a child’s most important job

By Angela Watson

Sometimes the things kids pursue outside of school are even more valuable than the assignments we give them in school.
Sometimes the things kids pursue outside of school are even more valuable than the assignments we give them in school.

I used to think school was more important than anything else. In fact, I remember sharing that truism many times in those serious, heart-to-heart conversations with kiddos who were slacking off. I’d put on a disappointed face and use my calm, serious tone: “You didn’t do your project because you were playing? Homework is more important than playing. School is a child’s most important job. Being a good student should be your top priority. It has to come first.”

Who knows where I got that idea–from another teacher, I think, or maybe even a parent. Every adult I said that in front of would nod in solemn agreement. It was a conventional piece of wisdom that we all believed and were trying desperately to persuade the kids to buy into when sports and video games and playing with friends became their focus.

My feelings have changed over the years. Slowly I have come to believe that kids have a right to their own time outside of school, and that we as teachers have no more right to control their evenings and weekends than our bosses should have to control ours. Kids need time to be kids and enjoy their childhood. Now I believe that a child’s most important job is not school, but learning. And these two things are not one and the same.

Learning takes place through play and exploration. Learning comes from following one’s passions and developing one’s interests and hobbies. Learning happens when we talk, wonder, question, daydream, and experiment. Sometimes it comes through worksheets and research projects. But not always. And the things learned through schooling are not necessarily more important than the skills developed apart from school.

I’m not opposed to homework altogether. And I want students to take school seriously. It’s critically important that kids give their schoolwork 100% during the hours of 8 and 3. But school is not the most important thing in their lives. Even if learning is a student’s most important job, children are more than just students, and life is about more than our jobs. Life is about relationships: family, friends, and a connection to God and spirituality. The beauty of life is experienced through play and rest, movement and relaxation. I want to help students create a work/life balance from a young age so that they grow up knowing how to enjoy and appreciate every moment they are given. And that is why I want my interactions with students to demonstrate a shift in perspective. I want my own priorities to reflect that school is not–and never has been–anyone’s most important job.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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  1. Love this!! I posted a link to this on my blog. As a math teacher, I often feel pressured by other math teachers to give homework every evening. I used to be one of those “tons of homework” types of teachers until my own children started school and I realized that it is just foolish to think that kids should spend eight hours at school and then go home and do school work. I’m a selfish mother that wants to spend quality time with my children, not fighting them to do their homework. Thank you for writing such a great article. I’ve enjoyed your blog posts over the last year.

    1. Thanks for sharing on your blog, Andrea, and for your kind words! I am not a mother yet, but I know that when I am, I will not want to spend my precious evenings with my kids forcing them to copy their spelling words ten times each for a teacher who will make them miss recess if they don’t. The thought of what I want for my own kids is very much in the forefront of my mind now. It wasn’t when I was younger–I just couldn’t imagine it, I guess.

  2. I love your outlook! I want my son to be a good student, but not if it means pushing homework on him to the point where he resents it. I believe it will all come together in good time, and he’s still so young. As you said… “Kids need time to be kids and enjoy their childhood.”

    1. Thanks, Marlana! You know what you just reminded me of? In my first classroom, I had a sign that said “You think your teacher is tough? Wait until you meet your boss!” I thought that was so clever–I just knew a no-nonsense demeanor was preparing kids for the workplace! I forgot all about that sign until about two years ago when I read a random article online from someone who quoted it. The author pointed out how misleading the saying is, because the best bosses AREN’T tough. They’re caring and inspiring and empathetic and supportive of their employees. Having worked for both types of bosses, I can agree 100%. I don’t want a tough boss, and I don’t want to be a tough teacher.

      1. I agree with you 100%! The best bosses I’ve ever had have definitely been supportive and inspiring. I don’t want to be a tough teacher, either. That doesn’t mean I don’t hold my students to a certain standard or I’m lowering my expectations, it means I’m realistic enough to know that a child is still a child and the quantity of work going home isn’t always the best sign of a quality education.

  3. Hi Angela. I just found you on Twitter. Bravo on this article, on this line: “Now I believe that a child’s most important job is not school, but learning. And these two things are not one and the same.”

    I never did homework when I was in school. I grew up on a farm and I missed a lot of school doing chores and farm work and I received my M.A. from Georgetown on a full fellowship. I wouldn’t consider myself brilliant or my teachers in H.S. even that great. I think I learned more from my chores which was a sense of responsibility and stick-to-it-tive-ness, qualities that are more important in life than knowing obscure facts (which you can look up on Google anyway in two seconds). I read a lot too. Of course I’m a big believer in education – I spent 7 years post high school in universities. But nightly homework for youngsters is ridiculous.

    I say ban the homework. Give kids more chores. Encourage them to read. We sell an educational product to pre-k through 1st grade, that integrates technology and nature but is completely hands-on in the school. The kids have “chores” that they have to do every week. They really get into it. I am of the opinion that kids need to feel needed, to feel that they are an important part of the family and school unit. Actually, I’m going to blog about that! Thanks for inspiring my next post. Ha, ha.

    1. Cynthia, what an interesting story you have! Thanks so much for sharing it. Your point about chores is a great one. Helping out around the house is a great way for kids to learn life skills.

  4. Angela, this is a terrific article and I wholeheartedly agree with you! I used to think school was a child’s most important job and I would become very upset when parents would take their children out to go on a cruise or something. Yes, I still wish parents would work around school for large vacations, but in my community it might be that a parent had just returned from being deployed or something. I learned to be more understanding and remember that going on a cruise is something most kids will never experience – what an awesome opportunity to see the world and spend time with family! It’s a lot of work on a teacher to help a child get caught up after these events, and some kids never do complete every assignment, but I’m much less grumpy about the whole thing now! 🙂

    1. Laura, that used to drive me crazy, too! I remember fuming in the teachers’ lounge–how dare a parent take THEIR child out of MY class for a week of having fun! Hah! It never occurred to me that the memories, family time, and travel they shared would be worth far more to the child than any activity I had planned for the week. All I thought about was how *I* would have to put together make-up work packets and spend *my* time catching the child up on everything s/he missed. I assumed the parent was being selfish but the selfish one was actually me.

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