Unpredictability Causes Students to Sacrifice Health for Homework

  • Axel de Vernou and William Briger ’21

To ensure that it executes its mission, goals, and values with the wellbeing and growth of its students in mind, SHP is actively reconsidering the way it uses time. The 2021-22 school year will be the first to implement new changes in the schedule. In order to support this process, the HeartBeat is conducting a multi-part investigation into the challenges SHP faces around time. Our first installment identifies homework, and in particular, the lack of communication and demands on student time that surround it, as a critical problem.

When students are considering their course list at SHP, one of the first pieces of advice that they receive is to manage the amount of AP and Honors class that they are selecting, since each one can account for an hour of homework each night. Yet, this advice is often left unheard; students pile their schedule with hard courses to improve their college application. 

As a result, students have an enormous amount of homework that they cannot balance with the extracurriculars and physical/mental health. It is nearly impossible for students to sleep a healthy amount while pursuing academic and extracurricular achievement. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that teachers of the same subject or course end up assigning varying amounts of homework that is not coordinated amongst departments. Paired with extracurricular activities, this makes it extremely difficult for students to complete all of their tasks in a given day.

“Due to extracurriculars, on some days, I do not get home until nine or ten, and then I have to start my three to four hours of homework at an awful hour,” says Luke Pisani ’20, who concentrates on robotics and tennis. This opinion is shared by almost every student asked. The amount of time spent on homework ranged from two to seven hours per night. Of the students who average lower amounts of homework, most said that they often had five to six hours once every week or two. “I get four to five hours of homework per night, but once every two or three weeks, I have to do six or seven hours of homework,” said John Magruder ’21, who also runs Cross Country and Track & Field. 

The amount of homework students expressed is not a crisis on its own. The more distressing problem is that students are unaware of how much homework they can expect to receive since it can be very unpredictable. Also, students are finding that their peers have large differences in their workload, even if they might be taking similar classes. “I’m not sure that there is enough collaboration amongst teachers from different departments… Most teachers are guilty of not checking in,” says Mr. Jorge Reyes, Head of the Mathematics Department.

This lack of communication leads to teachers unintentionally forcing students to give up many important endeavors, including sleep. One anonymous student said, “I often contemplate and do not do my homework because I am too tired or feel sick because I haven’t slept enough.” Alex Chappuis ‘20  said, “On some days, I only get four to five hours of sleep. I max out at around six hours”. The recommended eight hours is only achieved “when [students] are lucky,” said Bella Bachler 21’.

 Some students do not even get to pursue their different passions because of the burden of homework. With less homework, John explains that he would “learn how to do photography. I want to enhance my ability in other artistic mediums.” Veer Pareek 21’, a student with a similar homework amount, said: “If I did not have so much homework, I would have the opportunity to play more sports, like baseball, work more, and sleep more.” Because of the homework crisis, students are not only missing crucial developmental hours of sleep but are missing out on growth opportunities outside the classroom. 

How can a reshaped schedule get rid of the homework crisis that we are currently facing? Mr. Ben Hunter, Head of the History Department, shares his story. “I don’t think that there’s a teacher here who purposely assigns busy work or too much homework.” However, he explains that teachers might not be realizing the impact of the work that they are assigning. Mr. Hunter explains that he tried to create a homework assignment that resembled a newspaper themed project one year. “In my head, I thought this was a super cool project, [but the students] thought that it was busywork, so I got rid of it the next year.”

Mr. Hunter solved the problem through a straightforward strategy that SHP lacks: immediately implementing student feedback through constructive communication. Whether it is between teachers and students, or teachers of different departments, no one is quite certain of the amount of homework being assigned on a given night. 

Teachers are also not sure how much understanding a student has over a particular topic or the difference in students’ understanding, leading them to assign homework that might be unnecessary for individual students. “Once a student has demonstrated mastery over a particular topic, why do they need to do homework about it?” asks Dr. James Everitt. This brings back the idea of busywork, which many students feel like they are doing daily. “Talking to college students that return to campus, I hear that, on average, they sleep multiple more hours and have much less busy work and homework,” says Mr. Alex Bucur, SHP Creative Inquiry Teacher.

Sometimes, the truth is that teachers do not implement student feedback. An anonymous student said that his class “told our teacher we were spending nearly three hours on homework, and he did not change it.” As explained by Brodie Taweel ’21, “Homework is very teacher dependent. The amount each teacher gives ranges and can potentially cause a massive load.” Unpredictability can cause a lack in overall student mental health. “There is an imbalance of homework because some nights I have two hours, but on other nights, when certain classes assign homework, I could have up to five hours,” explains Hank Twichell ’20.

“I think we need to stop fragmenting time and creating a harsh imbalance in our lives,” concludes Ms. Benjamin, Head of the Fine Arts Department. The homework crisis is affecting the behavior and health of students throughout the entire day, but many people seem to know the answer. The conducted interviews have demonstrated that students are suffering from unpredictability and overloads in homework, and that we can use communication to provide balance to both students and teachers to alleviate this crisis.

Photo captured by Jake Birdwell ’20

By Axel de Vernou

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