Student Stress

I love that Alberta has a “Speak Out” student advisory council.  Recently the topic of discussion on the “Speak Out” board was addressed specifically to high school students in asking them what they find stressful about school.  Here’s what I would consider to be the Top 10 responses (in no particular order):

1.  Homework: The sheer amount of it and also how it can pile up.  This was by far the most talked about answer in the 30 pages of responses.

2.  Timelines:  Kids are finding there simply isn’t enough time to get things done.  Or they think that the amount of time they are given for a test simply isn’t enough.

3.  Teacher and Parent Expectations:  Pretty common sense here.  That feeling that when a student flounders they are disappointing someone.

4. Peer Relationships:  Peer pressures and bullying to specifically mention a couple.  The need and desire to fit in being another (some students also rolled drug and alcohol use into this as well in this category.)

5.  High Stakes Exams:  Diplomas and PAT’s.  One student sadly commented that he wished Grade 9 teachers would just stick to teaching what’s on the PATs so that he could feel prepared by the time he write’s them.  How sad is that?  Forget quality learning, just spoon-feed me what I need to know to pass the darned exam.  Sigh.

6. Workload Variation (between JH and SH):  Wow, I actually felt a little relieved at this one.  Apparently it’s not just my school.  Student also complained that they are opting out of extra-curriculars they used to enjoy because they feel like they need to in order to be successful in school.  How depressing is that?  One high school student said he felt like he no longer “had a life”.

7.  Finding Time To Have A Life:  Many kids mentioned that they have so many things going on after school that they just can’t seem to fit it all in.  I would also throw in here that many students mentioned missing a day when you are sick is hard to recover from (both physically and academically!)  You’ve missed so much in that one day that it seems impossible to both catch up and keep up with what’s still going on when you get back.

8.  Grades:  More importantly, the pressure of getting good grades.  This is most strongly felt by those getting ready to enter into post secondary.

9. Tests and Quizzes: This is strongly linked to the pressures students are feeling in 5 and 8.  But it isn’t just the high stakes stuff, it’s all of it.  This was also probably the second highest thing mentioned, although I admit that I didn’t count.  I thought it was important to mention this separately from high stakes testing because we all know that one stresses them out (common sense) but many people may not realize just how much ANY testing in ANY form can stress them out.

10. Teacher Quality:  As you can imagine there were several comments about teachers who aren’t easy to contact for help, don’t get through the curriculum in a timely manner (cramming two units into two weeks), being too strict, not being strict enough, grading to harshly, grading too easily… get the idea.


This advisory board was also asked for solutions to the problems they outlined.  Many students skipped this part because, in my opinion, they likely haven’t got the slightest clue.  Other suggestions were pretty much exactly what you would expect.

Stop giving us so much homework!  Give us more homework in junior high to prep us for high school!  Stop testing us so much!  Stop pressuring me so much!  Give me more help…….

I saw the biggest problems having a similar thread……


As teachers we are talking about this quite a bit here in Alberta.  It’s an issue that is up for debate in current teacher negotiations in terms of what is the best use of teacher time.  What if we took a look at “hard caps” on student time?  After having been at school already for 6.5 hours, how much more of their time are we entitled to take?  Time is a valuable commodity for us all.  Students want less homework, less testing, less studying to have to do.  What they are asking for is a chance to LIVE THEIR LIFE.  Is that so unreasonable?

But why is this time such as issue?  Well, some students feel that junior high hasn’t prepared them for dealing with the demands high school has on their time.  There wasn’t enough homework.  Junior high was too “slack”.  I’ve spoken to many parents about this.  As the only Grade 8 teacher in my building it’s hard not to take it personally when parents say they feel their Grade 9 student wasn’t prepared for high school well enough.  But now I know it’s not just my students!  They are feeling this around the province.

The jump from Grade 8 to high school is a difficult one in my building.  Courses are now semestered.  What I was given ten months to teach must now be taught in five.  Just the fact that a kid hasn’t cracked a math textbook in seven months has a huge impact on them!  Ask anyone who knows about the brain and learning.

I am a homeroom teacher, so I can control exactly how much work I am giving them.  In high school they will have potentially six different teachers who are not just responsible for the Grade 9s but every other class straight through to Grade 12.  They don’t have the time or the ability to get together to figure out who is assigning what and when.  This leads to some heavy pressure days!  A week goes by with nothing and then BAM your English teacher assigns an essay, your Bio teacher wants that science lab and your Math teacher has assigned a test.  It stresses me out just thinking about it.

And these teachers would all happily give less homework and less testing…..if they had less to teach.  Cut back on the curriculum!  Let us teach fewer things but with deeper meaning and in a deeper context.  But no….we have PATs and Diplomas and Finals to get these kids ready for.

And so it all ties together:

Curriculum demands lead to excessive homework (because you can’t get it all done when the kids are at school).

Homework is given to prepare for tests.

Tests and grades are needed to graduate.

Graduation is the primary goal and so everything else is sacrificed to obtain it.

And it all results in high student stress………..we’ve heard it from the student’s themselves.  30 pages worth of comments.

So now Alberta  Government, you asked the question and you’ve heard the responses…..what are you going to do about it?




About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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