Homework as punishment

Yesterday an Atlanta high school principal told me about a teacher who recently had a group of students misbehaving for a few days. Frustrated, that teacher assigned the entire class 188 questions to answer as they reviewed for an upcoming test.

One of the students complained to the principal, who spoke with the teacher. The teacher admitted wanting to teach the kids a lesson. She also said there would only be 25 questions on the exam.

The principal made the teacher trim down the assignment to 50 questions that best reviewed the information she wanted students to know.

“I understand when a teacher gets upset but assigning more work doesn’t teach kids a lesson,” the principal said. “We need to discipline the kids who act up, but we don’t punish the entire class for that. And I don’t like the idea of using teaching or homework to punish students.”

How often do teachers give students homework as punishment? What do you think of the principal’s decision to force the teacher to change the assignment?

NOTE: For some odd reason many comments are still getting blocked as spam. I’m checking the spam file as often as I can to get your comments posted. I hope this situation will get fixed soon. Thanks for being patient.

39 comments Add your comment


March 27th, 2009
7:55 am

I don’t think the 188 questions would have hurt anyone, and may have actually improved gradees on this particular test. The principal should have stayed out of it. The principal undercut the teacher’s authority in this matter, which didn’t send a good message to the kids. It would have been more appropriate for the principal to counsel the teacher on alternative discipline methods, but frankly, 188 questions wouldn’t have hurt anyone, and I bet that class would have sat down and shut up for the rest of the semester!

Leaving out the disciplinary aspect of it: If the teacher had assigned those questions as part of a comprehensive review, would anyone have blinked? Nope. Most would have praised the teacher for thoroughness (except for a few folks who don’t believe in homework, anyway). It’s high school, folks — a little work won’t hurt ‘em.


March 27th, 2009
7:55 am

STUPID SERVER! I’m getting sick and tired of responses getting lost!!

V for Vendetta

March 27th, 2009
8:04 am

This is an interesting situation. It sounds like the frustrated teacher had to take matters into her own hands. I wonder why she felt that way. Here’s my opinion on the subject: Punishment is punishment—whether it’s physical, mental, or social. If a school is not doing it’s job effectively punishing the students, teachers must find some sort of way to make their point. The nature of a punishment is that it’s not fun, must draw attention to the transgression, and leave a lasting impression on the person being punished. We’ve been told time and time again by our administrators and principals that schoolwork as punishment is not allowed.

Why? Having students do more problems or copy words out of the dictionary is not fun, addresses the problem academically, and leaves a lasting impression. What recourse do we have left to us? By the time they reach high school, many students don’t care if they have to go sit in a detention, view ISS as a break from whatever teacher was “bothering them,” and view OSS as a vacation. What else is there for us to do? If the school isn’t going to have the backbone to actually PUNISH them, why should we have to suffer for some administrator’s spineless pandering.

Forget it. I say make a repeat offender copy the WHOLE dictionary. I say make a disrespectful student cover the board from one corner to the other with a simple sentence: “I will respect others.” I say give them some kind of punishment they won’t forget.

As for the principal asking the teacher to change the assignment . . . I would have asked him what his alternative punishment would have been. Perhaps he would like to keep disruptive students in his office for a while. Maybe he would like to sit next to that student every period of the day. Maybe he would like to do something that would leave a LASTING IMPRESSION, rather than the same tired old garbage punishments.

Or I would just ask him to quit being such a sissy bi4ch.

Sarah H

March 27th, 2009
8:33 am

I don’t give homework very often because either the kids don’t do it or the parents do it for them.


March 27th, 2009
8:35 am

First of all, was this really a “punishment”? Or, was the teacher planning to give these review questions anyway?

Secondly, why did the student behavior get out of hand for days? Where was the administration to support the teacher in her efforts to control these misbehaved kids? Where are the parents of these kids?

Thirdly, even if this was a “punishment” – is learning really “bad”? Why would any principal stop any learning assignment?

Too many unanswered questions on this one….

Reality 2

March 27th, 2009
8:50 am

It just shows the stupidity of the teacher. The principal isn’t that much better off, either. I suppose this is perfectly normal in today’s prisons called schools.

Fulton Teacher

March 27th, 2009
9:13 am

There are probably few teachers that haven’t used this as a discipline method. At what point do we stop siding with kids for everything and make them take responsibility for their actions. These students were in high school. This means that they’re old enough to understand that what they’re doing is wrong, and they can handle the extra work. If we were talking about 3rd graders I may have disagreed, but not on the high school level.

I think it’s disgusting that the principal would take the side of the students. So what if they had extra work. Would it have really hurt them? It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage students in todays society. Where does this end?

I say kudos to the teacher. The principal…well he really needs to grow a set!


March 27th, 2009
9:41 am

I have mixed feelings about this situation. I believe that both the teacher and principal were wrong. My impression from the description given is that the teacher is operating in a climate where student expectations were low and felt he/she would not get the necessary support to intervene with the disruptive students. The principal sets the tone for expectations throughout the school. I have heard too many teachers in other schools tell stories about the lack of support they receive. The principal should work to improve the behavioral expecations of students in the school.

The teacher erred in giving an assignment related to learning as a punishment. Even if the teacher was trying to “teach them a lesson”, it was an inappropriate one. The resulting effect is that the students’ desire to learn will be diminished and the material the students are studying has been trivialized by the teacher’s action. Teachers should always give the offending students the disciplinary measures and this should be done in a respectful manner. I’m sure that’s how the teacher would want to be treated.

The student that talked to the principal should have also been offended by the behavior of the other students. He or she may have, but it was not reported here. When students, parents, teachers, and administration work together to improve the overall climate of a school good things will happen.


March 27th, 2009
9:49 am

I did this once. A parent came to me. I agreed with her. It was in 1987.

I also agree with those questioning why the principal did not have effective ways of backing up a teacher having discipline issues. If he/she was aware of the problem, what kind of backup did the office provide? (And what school does not have some behavioral problems, although with effective schools they can be minimized). At our school, too often kids are written up, meet with an administrator, and are back in class with a pat on the head within 15 minutes. Does that serve as a deterrent?

If our school was serious about effectively handling behavior problems, we would be having few by this time of the year, instead of 20 or more writeups per day! Get on the problems from day 1, instead of making excuses or saving the most severe consequences till the last month of school, I say. (FYI, to get written up there have to be 4 or more problems with solutions attempted, including notes home, yadayada. Unless it is a more serious offense, like fighting. So to be written up means there has been a history of problems. It is not like being caught with gum in class.)


March 27th, 2009
9:52 am

Laura, this new server system stinks!

Fulton Teacher

March 27th, 2009
10:06 am

Tony, I understand what you mean, but the reality is that there is VERY little support in many of these schools. I believe in the notion that it takes a village, however everyone else must also go along with that train of thought. Too often teachers are not supported by anyone and as a result have to come up with various forms of discipline. For example, we were told at our school that if we write up more than x number of students (he never gave a specific number), then our classroom management skills would be questioned. When we do write up students, consequences are rarely given. With NCLB we have to keep these kids in schools or it can affect our numbers. You can’t have too many suspensions and if they’re not there, we can’t improve their test scores.

Teaching is such a tough job. I really wish cameras could be placed in classrooms and later shown to the public. I know that most will be shocked at what occurs in today’s classrooms.

Math Teacher

March 27th, 2009
10:25 am

If we are going to complain about giving kids extra academic work, its no wonder kids are so weak, soft, under-performing, and out of control these days. Would anyone even blink at a football coach requiring extra laps or a sergeant demanding push-ups from a soldier? In both of these cases, the punishment builds self-discipline and the physical strength of the recipient. The only difference with this teacher’s appropriate actions is that the punishment addressed academic strength instead of physical. It was even targeted at the legitimate goal of an upcoming test! And the kids probably needed every bit of it because of their poor behavior doing the review. We should be applauding this teacher and doing more of the same, instead of defending misbehaving kids and crying that they might actually have to do 150 review questions (sob sob) as a natural consequence of wasting their review time.

Reality 2

March 27th, 2009
10:55 am

Teachers who use homework as “punishment” is making their jobs more difficult. Punish students for any wrong they do, but don’t do anything that might encourage students to equate learning with punishment. Punishment, whenever possible, should be restorative (is that a word???) of the wrong the student did.

A natural consequence of wasting review time is a lower test grades. In this context, if students were punished by 150 review questions and they did well on the exam. So, what’s the consequence? Maybe they had to spend some extra time at home working on review problems, but beyond that, there is no consequence. They got away with goofing off during in-class review time.


March 27th, 2009
11:26 am

As a former high-achieving, well-behaved student with top grades, I can tell you I would have had to hold my mom back from going to the principal. She was a teacher herself and rarely one to run in and try to fix things, but this sort of thing made her nuts. Really, how is it at all fair to give all students extra work because of the actions of a few? That sends the message that it doesn’t matter how hard you work or live up to, or even exceed, expectations. If others act up, you’re stuck with even more work. If good kids get punished even when they work hard because of factors out of their control, they’re simply going to quit working so hard. Why bother if you get punished either way?

V for Vendetta

March 27th, 2009
1:14 pm

HB, you’re absolutely right on one very important point: I don’t understand the teacher choosing to punish the entire class. It would have been better—in hindsight, of course—to address the problem with those responsible for causing it. Punishing the entire class, for the actions of a few disruptive students, is a sure fire way to draw unnecessary scrutiny and/or criticisms.

Reality 2, your previous ad hominem attacks on the teacher and principal were ignorant. Your continued nonsensical postings only reinforce that assumption. The psychobabble equating written or assignment-based punishments with students’ desire to learn is fundamentally flawed. Any unpleasant activity can be successfully used a punishment in the right situation. If a student is being disruptive and the administration refuses to solve the problem, some type of consequence must be devised by the teacher. Having a student copy the dictionary, encyclopedia, or textbook does not diminish the student’s desire to learn in the same way that making him stand on one foot would not diminish his desire to walk. The only thing that should stand out to that student is the unpleasant nature of the punishment, whatever it might be.


March 27th, 2009
3:17 pm

Fulton Teacher – I hear what you are saying and I regret that I have principal colleagues who act in the manner you describe. In our school, behavior expectations are high and teachers are supported.

Math Teacher

March 27th, 2009
4:00 pm

I can agree that only the students who were acting up should have received the punishment.

Reality 2

March 27th, 2009
4:50 pm


The only thing I can say is I’m sure my kids don’t have any teacher like you. I suppose you are a perfect fit for the prison system called “schools.”


March 27th, 2009
4:58 pm

I also agree with HB’s point. I felt it made it tough for me as a parent with this arbitrary ‘group’ punishment. If my child did something wrong, I can accept the punishment and explain to them what the acceptable behavior is. When they are punished for something they did not do, it caused confusion.

Though the article did not explicitly say so, I believe the student that complained was one that was not causing trouble. Assuming that is true, I believe that is the appropriate action to take.

jim d

March 27th, 2009
5:29 pm

a teachers job is to TEACH. Personally i think this would have taught them a lesson, but NOOO some mandy pandy principal had to intervene–What is THAT TEACHING??

Typical APS

March 27th, 2009
6:48 pm

And what did these students learn above all else when the assignment was cut? MY TEACHER WILL NOT BE SUPPORTED BY ADMINISTRATION IN MATTERS OF DISCIPLINE. Open season on the teacher.

Of course if they are APS high school students, they’ve been taught that lesson going on at least nine years.


March 27th, 2009
7:45 pm

Well, my principal just punished the whole grade level (elementary) for the transgressions of one class at lunch time. My class had nothing to do with the issues at hand, and the lunch monitors told the principal so. We were informed that just because they weren’t a problem on the day in question didn’t mean they hadn’t been at some point. They, therefore, needed the same punishment as the rest of their peers. Now, I have spent 10 years being told that group punishment is inappropriate for the actions of a few. I guess I was wrong. Of course, this same administrator (she’s new) uses an action plan method for write-ups: It isn’t a write-up until the child has commited 3 offenses. No wonder we have 1/3 as many write-ups as we had last year ! She’s a miracle worker!

Seriously, there are some big problems in school with finding ways to punish the unruly. I have no problem with the method of this teacher. If the work served a purpose more’s the better. I just think so many admins send mixed messages and do not support. Mine wants us to handle everything and be totally fair to everyone, but can’t manage to mete out discipline using her own rules.


March 28th, 2009
9:42 am

Teachermom mentioned a few key statements I’d like to comment on:

I have spent 10 years being told that group punishment is inappropriate for the actions of a few.

Teachers, what is the rule with respect to group punishment if you know the actions are committed by a few?

Seriously, there are some big problems in school with finding ways to punish the unruly.

I see this as the issue more than anything else. Attendance is a measure for making AYP. I believe we can agree, we need ways to ‘keep some students from attending school’ so they don’t compromise the instruction for the majority. These two points seem to be in conflict with one another.


March 28th, 2009
10:30 am

As others have noted, group punishment is the real issue here. When is it appropriate? Is it fair to punish an entire class or entire school when only a handful of students behavior warrant punishment?

Group punishment is easy – sorta like Bill Clinton’s “stroke of the pen, law of the land” comment years ago. Administrators and teachers like group punishment because it insulates them from criticism of “picking on” an individual student. And lets not forget that there are groups out there like the NAACP who monitor the demographics of punishment and pitch a hissy when they think minorities are getting punished more than the whites.

The AJC ran an article just today about a [principal in Connecticut who banned "touching."](http://wcbstv.com/local/school.bans.hugs.2.969949.html?cxntlid=homepage_tab_newstab)

Speaking of punishment, my daughter got her first demerit the other day for not wearing her blazer. Damn those wild and crazy private school kids.


March 28th, 2009
9:17 pm

I have an alternative view – I have had a child in a classroom with someone completely unable to control the class. In the case where a teacher repeatedly shows no ability to maintain order there is little point in punishing the students – yes, they should know better, because if they can obey one teacher they should be able to apply themselves the same way to all the teachers… but kids like to play and it’s the teachers’ responsibility to get them engaged in the classroom in activities conducive to learning. Maybe the teacher in question needs a change or some better coaching. Blame the student is not always the answer.


March 28th, 2009
9:19 pm

Hmmmm, ok, I give, how do you post a link in this new format?

Get real, momof2

March 29th, 2009
12:09 am

Who else are you going to blame for the STUDENT’S behavior when in the future, momof2? His college professor when he doesn’t show up for class? His boss when he doesn’t show up to work? His wife when he decides it’s more fun to carouse with his buddies than be a good husband? His landlord when he decides it was more fun to carouse with buddies than pay the rent?

No, I guess we’ll just go back twenty years and blame his teacher. Had to be her fault.


March 29th, 2009
12:36 am

All I can say is parents talk – and you can’t bash the students all the time. Or were you there? I know my situation. There are teachers and there are those who should not be teachers. All I’m saying is that a teacher who resorts to that sort of punishment is a teacher who needs to reconsider occupations. Looking back over my school experience and what I’ve seen with my kids those teachers do move on to other employment. Win-win.


March 29th, 2009
1:16 pm

You teachers are all so funny! You can’t admit there are a few bad apples. It happens in every profession and occupation. You simply cannot dump on students, parents and principals indiscriminately – there are times when a teacher’s approach is inappropriate. Yes, students act up or parents hover or principals meddle at times. But as I was saying, there are people working as teachers who cannot handle a classroom, who should not be there at all.
So, in this case the teacher, having reached some limit on patience or resources applied a penalty to all students in the class. My concern about the ability of the teacher causes you to predict all sort of future behavior from the students? Where is your logic here? Or do you have some personal experience with this situation that’s causing you to be so emotional?


March 29th, 2009
1:37 pm

Momof2, you are absolutely right. There are teachers who should never be in the classroom.

Reality 2

March 29th, 2009
5:18 pm


Great observation.


March 29th, 2009
6:57 pm

Momof2 – I take some offense to your over-generalization: “You teachers are all so funny!” – keyword being, of course, ALL. You just did what you are accusing the teachers of doing!

Granted, I haven’t been posting much lately – in large part due to the extreme negativity – however, I have always gone by the 10% rule – that is, in any given profession, 10% are incompetent, immoral, or both. This includes doctors, lawyers, politicians, CPAs, and yes, even teachers, among others.

It also includes parents – admit it – you know people – at church, school, work, your neighborhood – who you think are doing a less-than-stellar job raising their kids. The kids with whom you don’t want your kids playing – you know the ones…well, guess what, those kids are in some poor teacher’s classroom – possibly next to YOUR child! And that teacher’s hands are tied in oh-so-many-political-ways as to just what they can do with that problem kid.

Are there bad teachers? Yup, but believe it or not, MOST don’t last long. Are there exceptions – yup, there are – some stick around surprisingly long, protected by the same weird shield that protects bad doctors, nurses, and priests. That is why you need to talk to your kids and do more than ask them “how was your day?” When you talk to your kids, be careful that you don’t open the door to their making excuses by openly criticizing the teacher – that is the worst thing you can do – trust me, I learned by experience on that one, and I wasn’t even a teacher yet.

I’ve come to a theory – most of our problem parents are problems because they can’t separate themselves and their role as parents from their kids – they act aggressively because they feel like they are now in a position they weren’t in when they were children. They are trying to be their children’s friends and protectors – but they are not alwasy objective. A major problem poor teachers have is when they can’t separate themselves from their school experience either – they try to be their students’ friends – they try to be popular. Then, when they need to enforce discipline, it backfires.

AS far as group punishment goes, I try not to do that, and I never give homework as a punishment. What I have had to do though, on occasion, is give a class bookwork instead of a hands-on lab. I do this because I am liable if an injury occurs, and there are classes that can’t handle a lab situation. I tell the kids, as long as I’m covering the standards, it doesn’t matter how I present the info. If I think, in my best judgment, that doing work from the book is best for them, then that’s what I do. If the opportuniy presents itself for a few of the non-problem kids to work independently then I reward them with that.

Unfortunately, too many kids come to school wanting – expecting – to be entertained. They also do not expect to be responsible for their own learning – they expect to learn through osmosis. We have done this current group of kids a huge disservice – we have boosted their self-esteem, yet haven’t given them anything on which to base this. We’ve given them every crutch in the form of cooperative learning, word walls, graphic organizers, etc, and yet are surprised when they can’t work independently. We’ve made them think that school and education should be “fun” – and while I don’t think it should be drudgery, it’s still WORK – even when I’m interested in something, it’s still work to learn it – many kids don’t understand this.

Old School

March 29th, 2009
7:11 pm

And there are “parents” who shouldn’t be parents. Now that I have you all stirred up, could we put the broad brush away for a minute? I’ve been teaching for over 35 years and for the most part have been very successful in maintaining classroom discipline despite the challenges of the makeup of my classes (9-12, multi-level, varying degrees of interest/skill/abilities, and several different subjects (AutoCAD, Animation, Architecture, Solid Modeling, etc) at one time in every class.

There are those times a “shotgun” approach to discipline actually works. There are times simply standing next to the offending student and carrying on with the lesson works. There are times when a call to parents works. There are times when 188 review questions work. And there are times when nothing seems to work.

Isn’t it that way at home as well? Sometimes communicating our displeasure with certain actions is simple and other times only a mini armageddon brings about the desired behavior. One thing for sure is anonymous blogging isn’t bringing any significant change in my school system and I doubt it is anywhere else.

There’s an awful lot of finger pointing and blaming and sadly, very few possibilities for change or improvement. A brief newspaper article is hardly the entire story. It is primarily the viewpoint of the reporter knitting together some of the facts into a story that will help sell papers. And we buy into it, running quickly to our keyboards to get our opinions out there first.


March 29th, 2009
11:44 pm

Why so emotional, as you put it, about student behavior? Where does the logic come from? From personal experience. From seeing students who thought they could get away with flaunting the rules, who thought they were above the law, because a school system refused to address discipline and enforce the consequences that might have taught them different. Students who later grew up to incarcerated by a judge who did not cave in, unlike administrators often do, to parents, and who did not care to sweep it under the rug because the numbers would look bad for No Child Left Behind.

Students who may have learned the lesson if the school was only willing to teach it. Now they are learning it behind bars; some sadly are learning it from the grave.

Given that perspective, a homework consequence seems so minor as to not even be worth discussion. At what cost to society are we paying for not supporting the teacher and enforcing discipline?

William Casey

March 30th, 2009
8:00 am

I don’t believe in giving extra academic work as punishment but there ARE exceptions to this rule. We don’t have a lot of info here but it MIGHT be one such case in which the extra assignment is warranted.

I hate “review” and I’ll tell you why. It encourages a lot of teens (notice that I didn’t call them “students”) to goof off during normal instruction. “Let’s just wait for the day before the test review to pay attention.” THAT MENTALITY SUCKS!

ISS was once an effective punishment but no more… it’s been wartered down.


April 1st, 2009
2:24 pm

Question- What can a teacher do when punishment is deserved? Natural consequences (lower grades when you don’t study or perform) worked before credit recovery/graduation rate push. Teachers are allowed no control over discipline in classrooms.


January 15th, 2010
7:24 pm

even though this thread seems stale now, i want to post. i have been a teacher in public high school for 10 years. i do not condone giving any type of academic work as a discipline measure, or punishment. i really do believe it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of kids who act up in class because they hate what they are doing/learning to begin with. so, i assign other types of “work” – they clean the classroom, arrange shelves, etc. i try to make the punishment fit the crime and give them a natural consequence. if they waste classtime by disrupting, i make them serve lunch detention and do nothing but sit. they loathe this because they miss time with friends, but they pay back the time. if they are disrepectful to the orderliness and cleanliness of the room – they help the custodian by cleaning, etc. this approach seems to work. and then… i assess my teaching to see how i can make the material i teach more engaging for all students so that they don’t even have a chance to disrupt or disrupt. but one always will, no matter what. and hopefully that’s when admin steps in and does their job!


February 7th, 2010
9:34 pm

i think the principal made the right decision. punish the individual student, otherwise there like mini Hitlers. He doesn’t get into art school so he goes killing over 6million Jews. Teachers cant handle kids trying to make the hell hole that they have to go to almost everyday a little more fun so teachers just make it worse


September 5th, 2010
10:13 pm

Lol if I was assigned 188 questions of homework I’d tell whoever assigned it to go screw themselves.