Why All The Stress? The current state of education for individual students: Part III
In speaking with parents, one thing that astounds me is the lack of understanding of their child’s daily experiences. I frequently question the apparent lack of communication occurring at home. Are parents not asking? Are children not speaking? Who is listening? Parents (and other adults, too) forget the daily grind that is high school.
If you’ve been out of high school for a while, I’m here to tell you-school is NOT fun. Disney lied. There are no cool sing-alongs and choreographed dance sequences. Zac Efron is not going to jump out in full basketball regalia and belt one out. There are absolutely no mashed potato food fights. Snow days only occur in locales that actually get snow (thanks for nothing, Florida!). Instead, school is a stressful, hyper-controlled environment.
IN FLORIDA (in a school of around 2200 students), this is the day-to-day high school student experience or concerns, but the experience is similar for other states as well:
School starts at 7:20 A.M. But students are expected to be in the building or classroom at 7:00 A.M. School ends at 2:20 P.M. That is 7 hours of class. Lunch break is 30 minutes long. A common misconception: there are no study hall periods (a period where you sit quietly and work or sleep). For roughly 7 hours, students are expected to be mentally awake and alert. Some students stay even later for extra curriculars or tutoring (which ends at 4:45 P.M.).
Students are mentally exhausted after (or during) all of their classes. Their working memory is shot. I frequently get asked, “Homework, we had homework?” Students don’t have an agenda or use it. Additionally, they lack strategies or skills to work around their memory lapses.
Additionally, high expectations lead to increased stress for students. A lot of students have severe anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation. This stress is added to by common school features like fire drills (every month), shooter drills (every quarter), over 190 security cameras on campus, bullying, and excessive testing. Within a three week period, students had 3 major multi-hour tests. I hold multiple high-level degrees, if I was tested like my students are, I would have quit. The students take: Florida Standards Assessment, Practice ACT, NWEA (3 times per year), District-created test (3 times per year), and End-of-course exams (multiple courses). This is excluding any mock exams or exams being field tested by any other organizations.
Their phone is their life. Students will choose to go to the Dean and receive an In-School Suspension before giving their phone up, even for just a single class period. School and class policies don’t matter. Whether a school/teacher allows cell phone usage or not, students are constantly on their phones. They often don’t complete work because they’re on their phones. My #1 piece of advice would actually be to NOT give your child a phone. They can’t handle it.
Public education costs money. Students, often, cannot pay the costs of their schooling as every little thing now costs money. Want a locker? Pay to rent one. Want to park on campus? Pay for a parking pass. Want to take a fun elective class like Art or Wood shop? Pay. In Florida, students also have to pay for school and gym specific uniforms. These expenses are in addition to food. Most students have to buy a school lunch as no microwaves are provided for student use.
With students today, most curriculum is designed (by state standards) with the assumption that they want to go to college. Getting into college is difficult. Notoriously, celebrities have been involved in admissions scandals. It makes sense- going to the “best” college can significantly impact the trajectory of your life. Colleges, up until Covid-19, could be very selective. It will be difficult again. It is no longer enough to have a good GPA; students must also have excellent and multiple extracurriculars (which takes considerable time and money).
Recently, there was a story on Fox News Baltimore about a student being passed to a higher grade even though he had failed that grade level. People were outraged, but this is the new standard procedure. Students are kept with grade level peers and are expected to make up the class credits in summer school. It is the student/parent’s responsibility to sign up for summer school. Summer school sign-ups are not automatic.
There is a common perception that special education students get easier work or are taking advantage of “the system”. No. Special education accommodations (the services they receive like more time to complete work or paper copies of notes) are selected by a committee of professionals (including teachers, doctors, parents, lawyers). Sadly, special education students often cannot fully utilize accommodations due to strict school bell schedules or other students’ perceptions. Many students do not want to draw attention to their (dis)ability and would prefer to fail an assignment. Special education is a vital service.
For teachers, school has its own set of difficulties:
The main difficulty with teaching is the lack of resources. There are too many students and not enough funds. I have 32 students, but 30 desks. I’ve written previously about teacher funded classroom materials. No physical assets- no agenda or computer given. One of our classroom computers has been trying to log a student in since November (it’s April).. They are still waiting.
Schools are spread thin. There are 5 guidance counselors for 2200 students. To fill the gap, teachers are expected to act as mental health counselors with little or no training. Students have panic attacks. Students have severe depression. Students are suicidal. Teachers also have to deal with the mental health concerns of everyday life – teachers have died, parents are hospitalized, teachers are ill. Teachers are expected to teach social or emotional skills in addition to content. There is not enough time or training to do this, but refusing is not an option.
Child is on a new medication and can’t stay awake during class? Kid has no friends? Child was moved to a different seat in another teacher’s classroom? As a teacher, all of these are YOUR fault. In fact, everything is your fault. Teachers need to be prepared for nasty notes, emails, and calls from home. The school administration will be carbon-copied on everything, too.
Many parent-teacher meetings have to be scheduled after the school day. We are often mandated to stay late, without extra pay. Most things we do are without pay. There is a popular phrase for counting the number of years a teacher has been teaching: “years of service”. I hate this phrase as it normalizes uneven power dynamics and illegal behavior. What other profession requires employees to “volunteer” their hours or risk being fired for unprofessional behavior? You literally cannot say no.
For all the negatives, and there are a lot, teaching is a mentally/emotionally rewarding career. Seeing students succeed is a joy. Seeing students smile or happy makes us happy. I teach for my students. They are everything.
Have I missed anything? Let me know!
You can also check out Part 1 about the overall state of education