by Erin DaCosta

Every Friday, I invite my students to start class by spending ten minutes journaling.  I provide a prompt, and the rest is up to them.  The prompt is rarely related to class topics.  Rather, they are questions that invite them to reflect more deeply on their daily lives.  Several weeks ago, I gave my students the prompt, “What is on your heart and mind?  Share with me.”  The results broke my heart.  One entry in particular has stayed with me, and I want to share it with you today.

One student wrote:  “Many times I have to choose between spending time with my family and homework.  What is the point of all of this?  What is all of this stress for?  We live in a cycle of work, work, work, work, work, work…I feel like there is a problem in America’s schooling system.”

This student’s journal entry put into words what I have been witnessing in my students over the past few years:  they are incredibly, dangerously stressed and overworked.  They feel burdened by homework, quizzes, tests, and projects.  They are drowning in a world that bombards them with Snaps, likes, favorites, notifications, and more.  They are overcommitted, overinvolved, and overstimulated.

Do I add to this burden?  Do I, as their teacher, offer meaningful assignments that will aid their growth and development?  Does their homework supplement their in-class learning?  Should I do away with homework altogether?  How can I help them stop, breathe, and engage with the world around them?

These are the questions I grapple with on a daily basis.  I want to ensure that my students learn, that we cover enough curriculum, and that I offer structure and consistency.  Yet, I do not want my students to suffer.  And what I am seeing now is that they are struggling, immensely.  No student should have to choose between eating dinner with their family and doing homework.  No student should exist in a constant state of stress and anxiety.

My student closed her journal entry with a haiku, and I leave you with her words,

My generation
We need less stress, more support
Can we find a way?

I close by asking you this:  what stress do you see in your students?  How can we, as ministers and educators, appropriately respond?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Erin DaCosta teaches theology to sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Mount Alvernia High School in Newton, MA.  Previously, she served as a campus minister in a co-ed environment.




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3 thoughts on “Stressed”

  1. I think this student’s observation helps us to see how important it is to examine the values that are assumed in how schooling in the U.S. works and consider who’s really being served. We really need more Alfie Kohn and Peter Gray and less NCLB and CCSS.


  2. Yes, our students are stressed, and yes, it’s a moral imperative–integral to our Catholic Identity–that we respond. What makes it hard is hearing that our teens spend hours playing video games or on social media. What makes it harder is knowing that they often turn to these easy distractions to tune out the world instead of dealing with it. It’s technological escapism, and many teachers have given into the same temptation when faced with “inches” of grading as deadlines loom. Our adolescents struggle with expressing limits, especially given parental pressure and higher educational hopes. Is it that we need to help them manage the stress or that we need to help them avoid getting into it in the first place by instituting limits on advanced courses… especially given our concern for the development of the whole student.


    1. Julie, I love your statement about supporting limits. So often students feel the need to say “YES!” without thinking about exactly what it is they are saying yes to (be it a leadership position, a conference opportunity, etc.). They are so focused on building strong extracurricular and academic portfolios that they often sacrifice their own well-being. I think instituting formal limits may help, but we also need to teach students the importance of recognizing their own limitations, and the power of saying “no.”


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