Are seniors in high school overworked? Too stressed out? Should we go easy on them? Do colleges really care what kind of workload seniors take during their final semester in high school?
Jay Mathews, in an article in the USA Today, tells seniors
“…why not use those daunting AP exams as a path to sanity through senioritis? Forget about cramming until 3 a.m. Order a pizza, have your friends over and just talk, maybe about the course, maybe not. Go to bed when you feel like it. Have a nice sleep.”
While this may sound a bit shocking at first, Mathews continues to say that the “important part of the learning process is not pounding in the material but thinking it over, talking about it, coming up with new and intriguing ways of connecting it to the rest of the world.”
And this is where the teacher must step in and guide the students.
School is not testing. It’s not papers. It’s not GPAs or policies or the regurgitation of facts.
School should be a venue for exploration, a breeding ground for new ideas, an expansion of one’s knowledge, and a springboard for intellectual growth. Yes, I know it sounds a bit idealistic, but it’s my ideal. Students should be encouraged to take risks, to discover their passions, and to wrestle with the application of newfound knowledge.
One of my mantras is “if you’re stressing out, you’re not doing it right.” I like to create a framework for students to experiment. If they feel safe, and they know I won’t let them fail, then they’ll agree to take risks, to think outside the box, and to let themselves grow.
I don’t endorse a “slacker schedule” for a senior and neither does Mathews (he continually mentions students being enrolled in AP coursework, just not seeing the exam as the end-all, be-all), but I do think students need a good mix. They should engage in a balance of right- and left-brained courses, which are a mix of rigor and enjoyment.
If we can inspire students to be curious and independent thinkers, they will do the rest and do it well. Still, the kids must be relaxed enough to feel success is within their reach, and we have to create the environment for this to happen.