The first email arrived a little after 8:00 on Friday night with the subject heading “Major Crisis.” Two students needed help because they were having a “panic attack” since they couldn’t access one of the school’s online tools they needed for their group project.
The second email arrived a couple of hours later from a group of students who were upset because they could not access the same website and thought they had lost all of their work.
We resolved the problem by Saturday morning, but in the meantime, too many students were stressed out on a Friday night about an assignment that wasn’t due for days. Why weren’t these students at the football game, or at a movie, or out on a date? Why were they doing homework on a Friday night? Why were they back at work on a class assignment on Saturday afternoon when the leaves were changing and the weather was gorgeous?
On Saturday I accessed Facebook to check my students’ online responses to this week’s topic of the week. I had asked students to read the essay “Growing Up Scripted” and then respond to Doyle’s Assertion that today’s teenagers have little freedom. I posted the article a couple of weeks ago. Here it is again if you missed it:
Growing Up Scripted
When I first posted the article, I stated, “Whereas Doyle makes many interesting points, I’m not sure that my students see themselves as having little individual freedom.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Although most students admitted that parents and teachers had good intentions, student after student described a life of too much work, too many activities, too much homework, and too little time to relax. Here are three examples:
“Sometimes I just wish that I could go back to the days when we would go outside after school and play with friends until it was dark and it was time for dinner. I wish sometimes that our generation could go back to the times like Doyle described and get “on our bicycles on summer mornings and came
back home at dinnertime.” [from an excellent young woman who is kind, intelligent, cheerful, a teacher's dream]
“I am going to enjoy only my second full day of fun this entire semester tomorrow. Between my working every Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday, church on Sunday, youth group on Monday, school throughout the week,
and a very consistent 3 a.m. bedtime, ‘fun’ is just no longer an option. The
pressure to get near perfect grades, score higher than should be done on
standardized tests, and dedicate ourselves to countless clubs and organizations to show our commitment to excellence has morphed our age group from one that is typically filled with learning from new experiences and an overall ‘fun’ high school into one that is more or less like slavery. We do not make our own choices; society pressures us into making them. We either agree and follow the stream, or we try to fight it, to retain our inherent freedom and drown. “ [from a National Merit Semi-finalist who is hard working, charming, funny, and a joy to be around]
“The many activities we try to cram into 24 hours is outrageous. Where did relaxation ever go? For the past semester the only “me time’ I can find is in the middle of the night with my family asleep and half my homework finished. I have to force myself to go downstairs, chill on the couch, watch some television, eat ice cream, and learn some guitar. Otherwise, I would be working from the time I wake up until I go to sleep. There needs to be a cutback in the amount of involvements we subject ourselves to.” [from a student ranked third in a class of over 700 students, a warm, intelligent, highly motivated, and kind young man who also admitted in his post that he had previously given up a sport he loved because he no longer had time to play it and keep his grades up]
When the media and politicians focus on the apathetic students with low motivation, low test scores, and few skills, it’s easy to overlook the hard working, highly motivated, and extremely intelligent students who are close to drowning under college prep classes, AP classes, extra-curricular activities, community service projects, excessive testing, and living up to their parents’ expectations as well as the expectations they have for themselves.
As a teacher, I often struggle with how much work I should assign and how hard I should grade when I know that many of my students are taking 3 other AP courses (on a block schedule – four 90-minute classes daily). Instead of having a full year to learn the subject matter thoroughly, students now have to speed through the entire course in only one semester. In the old days, students had six 50-minute courses daily for the entire year (math, science, social studies, English, maybe a foreign language, and always at least one elective). Our most gifted and most dedicated and diligent students today, however, have no idea what an “elective” really is.
Sometimes I just want to tell these students to relax and play a little more and be happy if they have a “B.” Unfortunately, among these highly motivated students, a “B” is often equivalent to failure. They would like to slow down, but they don’t think they can and probably wouldn’t even know how to slow down if they had the option.
On Sunday night I noticed the Facebook status of one of my students:
“Doesn’t understand why she still has homework to do after working all day yesterday and all day today”
I have wonderful students. I just wish I knew how to ease their stress. Suggestions?