An Open Letter to High School Teachers on the School Workload

Subject: An Open Letter to High School Teachers on the School Workload
Date: 8 Apr 2017

Dear High School Teachers,
Several of you argue that focusing on homework, tests, and letter grades help keep students on track. Indeed, you hand out homework, assignments, and quizzes in abundance in order to make students do better on tests and achieve higher marks. But the workload placed upon students by teachers causes a great amount of stress among teens and young adults. In turn, this stress reduces the physical and mental health of students, and makes them less able to do their work in and out of school. In addition, students often have obligations outside of school that make it extremely difficult to keep up with all of the work that has to be done. As a student, I have seen the harmful effects of stress in my own life and in the lives of those around me.
An article on causes of stress in the lives of teens and young adults reveals that some primary sources of stress for high school students include “unrealistic classroom demands”, “failing an exam”, and “disagreements with teachers, parents, and other adults”(education.jhu.edu). This is an example of how severely students are being affected by the environment of the classroom. Many of these difficulties directly result from homework and other assignments that are taking up much of the time students need to do other things. While many assignments help students to solidify their understanding of a subject, research shows that there is “little relationship between the amount of homework students do and test scores” (centerforpubliceducation.org). Not only does excess homework cause stress among students, it is not related to student performance in school. I often find myself focusing completely on getting everything done before it’s due, instead of actually learning class material, which gives me an unhealthy and stressful attitude towards school. Focusing on homework and grades doesn’t help us as students to do better, but is actually a central source of stress.
According to the John Hopkins School of Education, stress is not harmful unless “a person feels threatened and not in control of the situation”. This feeling of not being in control can be caused by excessive work loads given to students by you, teachers, who may not understand the student’s situation. For example, many students have after-school sports, jobs, piano lessons, and other obligations they have to fulfill. Child Trends reported that 18 percent of high school students were employed as of October, 2015. This means that at least 18 percent of high school students had to balance school and work obligations. At least 18 percent of high school students had to deal with both the expectations of the classroom and the workplace. At least 18 percent of high school students most likely struggled in an effort to keep up with school and work. Students also have additional obligations that keep them plenty busy without the addition of schoolwork. These include extracurriculars and family obligations that students either enjoy or have to do. Excess school work not only detracts from the time that students have to do these things, but creates more stress which may cause them to perform at a lower standard.
Stress caused by the workload students have to deal with can have effects detrimental to their physical well-being. One evident example is the lack of sleep caused by school work and the stress that comes with it. The CFAH (Center For Advancing Health) reports that on an average school night, only about 8 percent of high school students get enough sleep, which is about nine hours. According to this information, an absurdly large percentage of students are not getting enough sleep, which is likely because of the stress and workload students deal with on a daily basis. Students often stay up late working on homework assignments and don’t end up sleeping for the recommended nine hours. This proves extremely harmful to students’ health and wellness. Lack of sleep can contribute to sickness, drowsy driving, having a less healthy diet, and other physical problems (sleepfoundation.org). In addition to causing additional stress in the lives of students, an excessive school workload can deprive students of sleep, which can be detrimental to their health. Ultimately, stress hurts students, too much school work hurts students, and lack of sleep hurts students.
Not only physical health is affected by stress and school work however. Mental health of students can be severely damaged by large workloads and stress caused by school. Although certain kinds of academic and extracurricular stress can be counted as helpful stress, “there is growing awareness that many subgroups of youth experience high levels of chronic stress, to the extent that it impedes their abilities to succeed academically, compromises their mental health functioning, and fosters risk behavior”(nyu.edu). Students dealing with an overload of school work in addition to their other non-academic work may end up struggling with chronic stress, which can seriously harm their mental well-being. If you stop giving out excessive schoolwork, students will be able to go from being hopelessly overwhelmed to having the strength to stay on top of all their work and handle their stress. The unhealthy mental state of some students is due to the fact that many of them feel as though they are falling in an endless pit of homework, stress, and lack of time they have to accomplish their obligations.
Some of you might argue that students will perform better on tests if they have more homework. But what if having more homework causes more harmful stress, leading to poor academic performance? Dr. Michael W. Kirst says this about the effect of stress on students taking tests:“With too much stress, test anxiety takes you over the top and you can’t think through a question”(stanford.edu). Test scores and student performance are not improved by too much stress. So why overload students with homework in an attempt to make them score higher on exams? If you are a teacher that chooses to overwork students, be aware that students may not perform as well as you might expect due to the stress, anxiety, and difficulty getting enough sleep caused by the extra work.
Although homework in excess is a difficulty many students face, the problem may not even be associated with homework, but with the class workload in general, and how difficult and stressful it is. Stanford Medicine News Center tells of Carolyn Walworth, and how often she is “overwhelmed by unrelenting school demands. She is desperately tired and longs for sleep.” Students that are constantly overwhelmed by classroom demands and lose much of their sleep and relaxation because of them cannot function as well physically and mentally. When you continue to work students harder than they can handle, their health falters, and their performance drops. You, as teachers, might assume that students are simply being lazy, when in reality, many are working too hard, not too little because of the work you assign.
In the end, why is the workload placed upon students so harmful? Stress. Why does excessive schoolwork harm students? Stress. Why do students struggle to juggle everything they have going on, and lack sleep on a regular basis? Stress. The bottom line is, you, the teachers, are giving students a workload larger than they can handle without being harmed by stress. Far too often students are lacking sleep. Far too often students are struggling to keep up. And far too often teachers just keep on going, assignment after assignment, until relaxation is a far-off oasis that high school students feel they will never reach.

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