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edu180atl emily anderson 11.4.2011

This morning, as I sat amid my ten bubbly, YouTube-entranced ninth grade advisees during homeroom, I was surprised by the appearance of tears at my door. One of my brightest and most conscientious students stood there, anxiety reverberating from her body as tears began to well. We scooted out into the hallway where, after a quick hug, she explained to me that with six tests and a project over a period of just a few days, she just wasn’t prepared to give her presentation in my class.

Although we quickly came to an arrangement that seemed to bring a bit of relief, the image of this diligent, focused young woman, overwhelmed to the point of tears with schoolwork, popped into my mind again and again today. The high school years are bound to present academic and emotional challenges at any rigorous educational institution. Still, our conversation was a reminder not only of how harried our modern, urban lives can be—whether we are balancing tests and projects, or jobs and families—but also the incongruence of pushing our students to be creative producers and higher-order thinkers when they are often just trying to surmount the next test on the syllabus. This student’s regrettable anxiety became a poignant reminder for me that a slower tempo just might be a crucial component for the authentic, creative learning we are all striving to provoke.

Emily teaches humanities at a private school in Atlanta. She is amazed that she found a career in which she gets paid to tell great stories and talk about literature every day.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lynnae #

    Hey, Emily! Great to read a post from you! Articulate and thoughtful, as usual, and I totally agree. I keep wondering what we’re REALLY teaching our students by living and exacting such a hectic pace. It’s like we get bragging rights for being busy, and how ludicrous is that? Of course, I haven’t found a solution for myself, but I do try to keep the busy-ness to a dull roar for my students. Miss you.

    November 4, 2011
  2. mark #

    Well said.

    November 4, 2011
  3. Emily:

    You are reflecting on one of the tragedies of our schools. I have been teaching for 32 years and still don’t understand why we can’t get a handle on the workload issue. Schools continue to struggle organizing their faculty to coordinate the workload. Since our classrooms are mostly isolated cubicles run by faculty who remain mostly isolated from their colleagues, especially colleagues in other disciplines, we need people who can coordinate this “piece of music.” An orchestra without a director! Is that a good thing? A school needs a strong leader who understands the challenges that students face going to 5 or 6 different classes, interacting with 5-6 different teachers, and managing workloads from each of these classes that do not connect or overlap. Most teachers I have supervised in my career do not have much empathy for this. I think we tend to assume that “we did it so can they.” Not a very healthy attitude. It strikes me that the strong leader needs to help the faculty at a school see this problem clearly and then respond by coming up with a solution. The homework, tests, quizzes could be more connected across disciplines. There could be test and project calendars that faculty need to use so the workload is public and organized. Let’s not put the student in the position of having to negotiate these problems. The adults should take charge and cease a more holistic and healthy school culture that allows students time to reflect and slow down as you indicate. I think students who learn more and be more present in our schools.

    Bob Ryshke

    November 6, 2011
    • T #

      Also, a lot of times, teachers say “oh it’s only 1/2 an hour to an hour of material.” They seem to forget, we take 5-6 more classes!!

      November 6, 2011
    • A #

      In my experience, much of the overload stems from additional commitments: sports (2-4 hrs a day) music lessons, play practice, community service, church involvement, year-round sports, traveling teams, clubs, etc… I am not trying to minimize the academic workload. I am only trying to paint the bigger picture here. We need to remember that the “Super College Applicant,” or sometimes the “Super College Applicant’s Parent” is working round-the-clock to develop a super-stuffed resume.
      Health and wellness?
      Civic engagement?

      November 6, 2011
  4. HI, Emily,

    I agree with all of the above and I have been working in independent schools even longer than Bob! My observation is that while teachers complain about workload, etc. for themselves, they often wear stress and fatigue as badges of honor and stress and fatigue become the normative conditions of school life – passed along regrettably to students. I don’t think there is a conspiracy of mean-spiritedness that drives this. On the contrary, I think teachers really are trying to equip students to be both competitive and contributive. Still, the way we design our days and our classrooms, to say nothing of our academic expectations, can only produce this sort of overload. While I don’t believe we should lower our expectations, we do need to become more creative and collaborative about how we ask students to meet them. It is possible to establish conditions that permit both achievement and manageability.

    Peter Cobb

    November 6, 2011
    • Peter:

      Wise words! I would agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments and thoughts.


      November 6, 2011
    • T #

      I agree, the expectations should not change goal wise. However, the approach to these high goals doesn’t have to be a ton of homework… Workload should involve some class prep, and practicing material for better retention and understanding. There should be a purpose for all homework and preferably it should fit under the above categories (or another category I hadn’t thought of). Additionally, a lot of students do extra on their own to help their understanding but on top of the assigned stuff, it can be a lot!! In that case, some may drop the extra stuff because they don’t have time, resulting in a decrease in comprehension and/or enthusiasm.

      On another note, more related to the original post, whenever I have felt overwhelmed, although there has been plenty of sympathy, most older students and some teachers, say that’s normal and to be expected; everyone goes through it. Sure that could be the case, and I’m rather positive it is, but isn’t that sad?

      November 6, 2011
  5. You raise a good point Emily. It isn’t just about academics. There are lots of other things in a typical student’s life.

    homework in 5-6 courses
    other activities
    outside art experiences

    This is a significant workload. The sports and other activities in school are all part of the school’s program.


    November 6, 2011

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