Open Letter by Nikki Coates

Dear Therapist,

How are you? I’m sorry for the endless appointment cancellations lately. My teachers just love randomly piling loads and loads of work in addition to what they have already assigned. I’m hoping we could meet next Friday, but I’ll likely have to memorize one-hundred Spanish words and learn how to draw Lewis Dot Structures in preparation for a Chem quiz.

My school has specific days when each class is allowed to test. For example, science is on Tuesdays, math is on Friday’s, etc, etc, etc. But, do you know what makes this schedule really efficient? – when teachers decide to completely ignore the designated schedule! It was meant to have all tests separated so it prevents the stress, but my district has no enforcement of such rules. Now, I have my math and Spanish tests on the same day (Wednesday), my AP US history test on Friday with an essay on the Thursday before, a Chemistry test on a Monday, and a Psychology test on Thursday! I have a test every single day of this week besides Tuesday, but none are on the days that they were assigned on the district testing schedule. Doesn’t that just make you want to rip your hair out?

I wandered if I was alone in being stressed out by my teachers, and of course it turns out that I’m not the only one. It’s good to know other students are struggling for breath in this deep and dark education ocean.

In my AP Composition class, we’ve spent the year understanding and analyzing sources. So, using my newfound skills and a few spare minutes, I turned to the internet to find out how others felt about high school. A study at Stanford concluded that 43% of students viewed testing as the source of their stress and 59% attributed it to homework. The teenagers they researched had on average over 3 hours of homework each night1. Finally! There was proof that it wasn’t just me who felt the strain of high school workload. 

Yes, it all stems from the pressure to get good grades…and it’s ironic that a college like Stanford would conduct a study like this when they have a 4.8% acceptance rate- meaning applicants must have really, really, really good grades in order to stand out.

In America, it’s getting harder and harder to get into college. Teachers at my school make it seem like a “B” or one “C” on a test is fine. However, it’s not. It’s not fine for kids whose parents have big expectations pressed upon them. The Stanford study concluded that 33% of students felt pressure to get good grades. In my case, my mom and dad went to the best college in their countries (Stanford and Cambridge) and my brother is a sophomore at Tufts. If I don’t get into a top 20 school, am I a failure? What if I don’t even want to go to college? Not only am I worried about getting into college, but I’m worried when my next math test is and how I’m going to find time to study for it – especially when I’ll have a presentation due in English and a one-pager about US history due the same day. How can I do my best work when my teachers and administrators can’t seem to figure out how to run a school efficiently?

With all this homework, an outsider might think that “free points” that you get for completing your homework can boost my grade in a class. This mindset is wrong: All this work accounts for less than 10% of my grade. But if I don’t complete it on time, I’m punished and ashamed. “Nicola, why didn’t you do the homework? You know I don’t collect late work.” When I check grades there is a big fat 0. Humph. Free points – of course it is because it is a 0.

The teachers that don’t weigh homework highly, do so because they can weigh tests and quizzes more. What about projects or presentations or classwork? They get the same weight as homework most of the time.

While an outsider might blame stress on student pressure and emphasize the importance of outside work, homework doesn’t actually help improve test performance. Research has found no evidence to support homework’s positive effect. None. Homework gives students physical and mental fatigue, and limits free time. How am I supposed to study for a test in Spanish if I have a rough draft of a research essay due the next day?

This is why some students turn to drugs and alcohol – they need an escape from the pressures of school. I don’t have time to hang out with my family or friends because I’m locked up in my room taking notes on a documentary about the Gilded Age for my history class. I wish I had the time to go see the new Star Wars movie or crash on the couch and binge-watch The Office with my mom and dad. But I don’t.

If only teachers could understand that their lack of coordination and structure to homework and scheduling is making things worse. And no, telling a student it’s okay to get a B is not fine, especially when the weight of the world is on their shoulders. Success stems from self confidence. If a student like me feels like they can’t live up to parents’ and teachers’ expectations, then they will never be happy. Is this because society conditioned us to feel this way? Or is it because society conditioned schools to teach students the importance of higher education?

Anyway, I’m hoping one day I will find time in my schedule to meet. Maybe we can plan to meet on Tuesday but then I’ll show up on Friday instead?