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,
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.