Your dad tells you to mow the lawn.
Your elderly neighbor asks for your help moving a piece of furniture.
Your aunt says you need to use a coaster rather than putting your La Croix directly on the coffee table.
What do these all have in common?
These are all reasonable requests made by well-meaning adults, so complying is good manners. It would be rude to ignore or refuse these requests.
And it’s actually the very same when a teacher assigns homework.
Why It’s Rude to Not Do Your Homework
First, a teacher assigning homework is simply a well-meaning adult making a reasonable request, so ignoring or refusing that request is bad manners. But there’s more to it than that. Not doing your homework is actually harmful to other people.
Homework is designed to reinforce and expand upon the learning you do at school. It pushes you up the mastery path, deepening your understanding and improving your memory. And this isn’t just about doing better on the upcoming test; it’s also about being more prepared for tomorrow’s lesson.
Teachers write lesson plans that are progressive and cumulative. The lessons build on each other as you go from one topic to the next throughout a unit, and from one unit to the next throughout the school year. So both teaching and classroom activities go much better if everyone is caught up.
If you don’t keep up with the homework, it makes the class worse for everyone. You can’t participate effectively in group activities and classroom discussions. You can’t help your classmates, and it’s harder for them to help you. Your teacher is forced to spend more time reexplaining old concepts and less time helping the class move forward.
Thus, skipping the homework isn’t just hurting your learning, it’s hurting everyone else’s learning too, while simultaneously making your teacher’s job more difficult.
Why It’s Rude to Turn Things in Late
The same problems arise when you do your homework after the due date. It is, of course, better to turn things in late than not turn them in at all, but you’re still going to be behind the class and therefore slowing down the collective learning process.
Turning things in late is also a hassle for the teacher to grade, which is another reason it’s bad manners. Teachers grade in bulk, meaning they grade all of their students’ versions of one assignment at one time. They enter the grades for that assignment into their grade book in bulk. It’s still tedious, time-consuming work, but at least it’s efficient.
But when you turn in a few old homework assignments late, they all have to be graded and entered individually, which is very inefficient. As a result, you’re making life harder for your teacher. You’re being a pain in the butt. You’re being rude.
Don’t get me wrong – I’d rather you did your homework late than not at all, and your teacher would too. They became a teacher because they want to help students learn. And they’ve assigned you homework to facilitate your learning. Doing the homework will cause you to do better on tests, reducing the need for test corrections and retakes, both of which create extra work for your teacher. So it is better late than never.
But don’t get upset if it takes your teacher a long time to grade your late work. And don’t be upset that there’s a penalty for turning it in late. Be grateful that late work is accepted at all and resolve to turn things in on time in the future.
An Alternative to Grade-Focused Parenting
Viewing homework from the lens of good manners allows parents to separate conversations about grades from conversations about getting their work done.
Usually, when parents nag their kids about missing homework, it’s because their grades are suffering. And when students have missing work, they often say things like, “Well, it’s not worth that many points, so I decided not to do it,” or “It’s too late to turn that in, so I can’t do it.”
If homework is all about grades, then these responses make sense. But if homework is about learning and practicing good manners, then these defenses quickly fall apart.
It doesn’t matter how many points the assignment is worth; the teacher asked you to do it, so you should do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s too late to turn it in for a grade; you can still do the work and show the teacher that you did it. You can even apologize for not doing it on time because you understand that disregarding the teacher’s request was rude.
As parents, you get to teach and enforce good manners in your children. You expect them to say “please” and “thank you.” You expect them to obey the requests of other parents when they’re at a friend’s house. And you can expect them to turn their homework in on time.
But this expectation isn’t about grades. If they decide to do a poor job on their homework and earn a low grade, that’s on them. But you get to hold them to the standard that, at the very least, they complete the work and turn it in, just because it’s the polite thing to do.
Chris Loper has been working as a tutor and academic coach since 2014, racking up over 10,000 hours of experience supporting students.
Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
Chris’s most recent endeavor combines his academic and habit-formation expertise to help students thrive in college. Visit SmartCollegeHabits.com to learn more.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.