As class starts, I notice a couple of students in the back of the room focusing their attention to a yellow piece of paper. As a 4-minute video clip plays on the screen in the front of the classroom, I circle around to see what is diverting their attention. Incomplete math homework! Hmm, what should I do? I asked myself as I walked back to front of the classroom as the video wrapped up.

When I started teaching this behavior would have invoked anger in me. I would have quickly snatched up the papers and either ripped them up or passed them on to the assigning teacher to inflict a proper punishment. After 15 years in the classroom, I have realized this does not fix the issue of students focus or homework completion. What do most teachers do in this situation? I just want to make sure students didn’t miss the lesson on the periodic table. The video was an introduction to element groups. I felt it was engaging since Gallium is a pretty cool transition metal.

I had to make a quick decision. I asked the student to bring me their yellow papers and set them on my desk. I quietly shared my concern about missing the science lesson to finish math work. They both wanted to share excuses: “I didn’t feel well last night!” one exclaimed. I just asked them to return and focus on the task at hand. A bit later in class as students were working independently, I looked at their yellow math pages. I quickly noticed one student had no idea what they were doing and the other hadn’t shown any work. I called each of them up individually. First asking how they arrived at their answers to the first question. Neither one of the students could explain how to do the work. Both shared how they were confused with the assignment. One explained that he was ill the previous night the other confessed that sports practice obligations were taking precedence to his school work. Know that their math class was after lunch, I offered the the opportunity to complete the work during our lunch hour. Both students welcomed the invitation.

At lunch, we talked through the math equations. It seemed that students were not recognizing how to set up the ratio equations to properly solve them. After working through a few examples I made up about sports. Each of them independently worked through the 6 question assignment from the math teacher. As I checked over their work giving them high fives for success. “I though you were going to call my dad!” one exclaimed as he thanked me at the end of the lunch period and headed to math class with work completed in hand.

School needs to be a safe place! Even for those that make mistakes, forget to do their homework or are just plain lazy. Teachers need to focus on the individual students needs giving them time if needed to finish. Sure it is frustrating to have students focused on other classes in mine. I bubble of anger rises in my chest when I see students who seem to waste their time and never seem to have work completed. Does expressing this anger help these students? Not usually. Next time you encounter a similar situation, think about how you would like to be treated!