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Why you should NOT assign homework over breaks – even in high school

homework over breaks

I feel like this blog over the years has become my personal (but very public) confessional, of sorts. I spent a few years growing up in a Catholic school, so I am very familiar with the ole confessional booth, and this kinda feels like that – but instead of a priest on the other side of the screen there are a whole bunch of high school teachers.

Today is just another day for me in the confessional that is my blog, and I am here to confess one of my greatest regrets from my time spent in the classroom – assigning homework over breaks.

It’s true. Former students from my first few years teaching can attest that I not only assigned homework but sometimes PROJECTS over school breaks.

I cringe even just thinking back on it. If you have been around my corner of the internet long, you know that this is NOT in line with my current philosophies whatsoever. In fact, in my most recent years in the classroom, I was even a HUGE proponent of not assigning homework at ALL, let alone over breaks from school.

But oftentimes, especially in my early years, I just did what everyone else was doing because I felt like, if those teachers are doing it, I probably should too. As the years went on though, I got REALLY reflective about my teaching practice and intentional about the motivation behind each choice I made in my classroom, and I want you to consider doing the same as you read this post, or really any post on my blog.

So first let’s start there and consider – what is the goal of homework over breaks anyways?

What is the goal of homework over breaks?

homework over breaks

Now, this requires personal self-reflection, and you may find that when you reflect on why you assign homework over breaks, you have a legitimate reason. And if so, GREAT!!

But if you are like me, you may reflect on why you assign a project or homework and realize, there really isn’t even a good reason behind it. I know for me the goal was usually two-fold:

  1. Use their time off to try to cover more stuff we didn’t have time to cover in class, and
  2. Simply to keep them thinking about my content and not forgetting it.

But do EITHER of these goals really help my students? Honestly, no. I shouldn’t burden them with extra work just because we didn’t get through all of the standards the state demands of us. Also per my second “goal”, students aren’t remembering my content better, they are just spending more energy stressing over the mountain of work they have to do from all of their teachers.

In my experience, having students do homework over breaks really hurts more than it helps.

Homework over breaks hurts more than it helps

homework over breaks

I’ve found that most of my students fall into two categories when it comes to how they approach homework over breaks:

  1. Some students feel anxious about doing their work perfectly, and therefore they work diligently over their break on their assignments. But then they never really enjoy their holiday because they are too anxious about their work, and thus don’t really rest.
  2. Other students don’t work diligently and then they just end up scrambling the last night before school starts, staying up too late and/or copying from another friend. Is good learning happening with this method? Nope.

Neither of these scenarios are what I want for my students. Personally, I want my students to care more about their families than they care about their success in school. So why take over some of the limited time they may have to spend with their families?

Even if your students don’t have a great home life, I still can’t see how assigning homework over breaks improves that home life. Why not free up their time so that they can work and earn money if they need to, spend time with friends, or truly just rest?

Our students NEED time to unplug from school just like WE need time to unplug from school. If they spend their break doing schoolwork, then they don’t come back refreshed and ready to learn more. I truly believe homework over breaks hurts more than it helps.

How you may be assigning homework over breaks without even realizing it…

homework over breaks

When I realized I didn’t have great motives for assigning homework over breaks, or really at all, I stopped doing it. But I still found that I was inadvertently doing it! And you may be, too. HOW?!

Any time I assigned a project in my class I always gave students AMPLE time to do it. Often I would give them a project a month out from the due date. Because of this, there would be some sort of break in there where students ended up doing a project (Ex. My genetic disorder research project was always assigned in January and due in February usually after our school’s “winter break” mid-February).

So even though I wasn’t INTENTIONALLY assigning homework over breaks, often a project would be due the week after a holiday break and thus students ended up spending their time off working on it. Over time I started to see that my students (1) never came back from breaks recharged and (2) I dreaded coming back from breaks because I knew I had a ton of projects to grade. This was a lose-lose situation.

But NOT assigning projects or homework over breaks meant that BOTH I AND my students benefitted.

Your students AND you will benefit!!

homework over breaks

We ALL need rest and we ALL need the people in our lives to hold us accountable to resting and actually having work/life (or school/life) boundaries. By not assigning homework over breaks (or ever) I was able to get the rest I personally needed AND model for my students how to rest and how to separate work from life.

Here are a few other benefits I shared in my post about not assigning homework, in general, that apply here:

  1. My no-homework strategy built rapport with students from day 1 because I would tell them from our first day together that I would never assign homework to them over breaks. And relationships with students are EVERYTHING when it comes to effective classroom management (in my opinion).
  2. This motivated my students to work hard for me because I respected their time outside of class, and became central to my classroom culture. It truly eliminated a ton of management issues. I’d just simply remind them that I respected their time so they needed to respect mine. If they didn’t, the consequence was potentially having to use their breaks to do work for me.
  3. I found students started doing way better in my class because they were more focused in class after being able to rest outside of it.
  4. I actually became a better teacher because it forced intentionality with the class time I had since I wasn’t going to use holiday breaks as “overflow” time anymore.
  5. It helped to majorly decrease the time I spent grading. Then when I DID grade something, I knew it was an authentic assessment because EVERYTHING STUDENTS DID FOR ME WAS IN MY PRESENCE!

Teacher friends, imagine coming back from a break without a stack of work to grade the week you return!!! ESPECIALLY for those of you who might assign summer work – how much of a bummer is it to start your year grading all sorts of work your students most likely rushed through just to get it done? Save yourself and your students from homework over breaks!! Because both you AND your students deserve a TRUE break.

I encourage you to unplug every break you get from school and encourage your students to do the same. You will be amazed at how much your mind needs a mental break (Side note: I don’t use social media on Sundays and even THAT small break from “noise” in my life makes such a difference for my mind. You really wouldn’t believe how much “unplugging” makes a difference!!)

Have anything you want to confess? Step into my confessional and shoot me a DM on Instagram. I’m here to encourage you!!

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