Switching from a year of remote and hybrid learning to an in-person academic model, the Andover community is in a period of readjustment. Though five weeks into Andover’s 2021-2022 school year, many students and faculty members have expressed stress, and what some identify as burnout, according to Ashley Song ’23. Faculty members at Andover have received emails from the Dean of Studies asking them to monitor the assigned workload for students.
Faculty members have seen the state of the students and are trying to help alleviate some student stress. Matthew Lisa, Chair in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, shared that faculty received emails from the Dean of Studies office about student stress levels.
“Students really worry about themselves sometimes, but I’d say, as a whole, students at [Andover] don’t do a lot of complaining. They are more likely to just bear down and do what they’re being asked to do, and I think it’s important for us as faculty to keep taking the temperature of our classes and seeing how this is going, how the workload is,” said Lisa.
He continued, “We’ve talked a lot about being careful not to just go back to the fall of 2019. We’re ramping up a little more slowly than we have in the past, instead of diving deep right back in. I just think there’s going to be some bumps along the road in the Fall Term, but hopefully, instructors are listening and giving students opportunities to give them feedback.”
This feeling of burnout is not uncommon amongst students in this transitional period, according to Song. She described her own experiences with burnout this year, and explained how she feels constant exhaustion from school and a lack of sleep.
“Even though we’re only three weeks into this term, I already feel like I don’t really want to do this anymore. I’m just really tired all the time. [My friends and I] never get enough sleep anymore, so I am losing a lot of energy and interest in a lot of things,” said Song.
Raj Mundra, Dean of Studies, commented on the faculty’s attempts to improve the well-being of students. Mundra noted how he and the department chairs have been meeting every week, as well as hosting additional meetings with other faculty to find some solutions to the ongoing problem. Some methods include class check-ins with the teachers and presenting additional resources for the students.
“We’ve been asking faculty to check in with their classes, to see how things are going. But I think there has always been a tension between academic excellence and student wellbeing. And we have students here who are curious and creative and hold high standards for themselves. And we also need to have students take care of themselves and get enough sleep and eat and balance all that,” said Mundra.
He continued, “I think there has always been a tension between academic excellence and student wellbeing. I know we’re not the only school that is facing this. When I talk to my peers, Dean of Students at all our peer schools, their communities are also feeling a lot of stress around this time,” said Mundra.
Mundra’s comment on other schools was reflected by Gigi Chen ’24, a student from Choate Rosemary Hall. Chen explained how she and her peers are unsatisfied with the school’s measures to help alleviate stress. With a cold going around campus, Chen mentioned that the school’s health center seems understaffed for both physically and mentally struggling students.
“The health center is overwhelmed with students who caught the cold. It seems like the health center has less support than ever. They don’t have enough people to deal with the students who are physically ill and mentally ill. If you want to go there for mental support, they [most likely] won’t have time to talk with you,” said Chen.
Chen continued, “It doesn’t seem like there is anyone keeping the teachers in check in terms of how much work they give, so they just keep giving and giving. Choate doesn’t have people sending out emails to the teachers on whether they should ease up on homework [or not,] at least not to my knowledge. And it’s really starting to show.”
Some Andover students feel that this burnout is in part due to the romanticization of overworking oneself. Ingrid Appen ’22 explained that as a result, this tendency leaves healthier habits to be swept to the side.
“People often say, ‘I only got this many hours of sleep’ and, ‘So and so are so busy, they’re never sleeping.’ I think it’s kind of a point of pride… But I think that self-care is not emphasized enough as something that makes someone happier. I think people think you’re doing a good job at Andover if you have a lot of extracurriculars, not if you’re happy and sleeping enough and eating well and taking time to care for yourself,” said Appen.
Logan Suryamega ’23 commented on how name recognition of Andover affects the culture surrounding overworking and overassigning. Similarly to some of his peers, Suryamega felt that it is expected for the students of Andover to be overworked and burnt out.
“I mean as a top prep school, they can’t get away with not giving a lot of work. But at the same time, I think they’re aware, maybe not at an administrative level, but individual teachers realize just how much work is being handed out. It’s normalized here. [The] levels of homework as well; it’s the norm at a prestigious school [like Andover.] Everyone says, ‘this is normal for you, you’re in a prestigious school, this is how it’s supposed to be’. But honestly, people shouldn’t have to be so stressed about everything. It’s definitely a culture that’s endorsed at Andover,” said Suryamega.
Andover provides students with workload assistance and stress help through resources such as the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center, the Academic Skills Center, and teachers or advisors. Michael Ma ’24, a student who expressed a feeling of burnout, said that Andover’s resources can provide a temporary fix or assistance but can not solve the root of the problem: workloads.
“We have some pretty great resources if you seek [them] out. I know people have their gripes with [Sykes,] but I feel like trying it out wouldn’t hurt… Your teachers and advisors, and all those things are great. But it’s not going to address the root issue of why people are going to feel burnt out, and that is school work, without a doubt. I guess [the school is] kind of bouncing around the main issue,” said Ma.
Though Ma explained that these resources have their faults, Jack Swales ’24 mentioned that his teachers have been trying to help him and his peers through a difficult academic period. Swales said that some of his teachers have lessened their workloads in order to ease students back into Andover, something that he feels necessary when coming back to in-person
“Some of my classes, very few, but some have been at least kind of easing the work a bit. But, I definitely say there is still a while to go. Everyone has to remember that we haven’t experienced a normal year in two years, so I know it’s been a couple weeks already, but just like easing our way back into it and then starting to ramp up a bit more would definitely benefit the students,” said Swales.
According to Lily Lin ’23, a student at Deerfield Academy, workload stress and burnout is not uncommon in her own life. However, Lin noted that faculty members and teaching staff have proven to be viable resources for help with academic stress and more general stress as well.
“I have a lot of adults on campus that I’ve built good relationships with from the years before, and I feel comfortable to go up and talk to them. Whether that’s my advisor or a history teacher from last year, they’re usually very responsive and give good suggestions. If I’m struggling with a class in particular, everyone would suggest to go talk to the faculty. [They] are usually very open to conversation and want to know what’s wrong, so they can help you be better,” said Lin.
Mundra explained how students are in varied academic states right now. Mundra emphasized the difficulty some students are facing with academics that are too much for them at this point and time.
Mundra said, “This idea also of just offering students these deep learning opportunities and then also understanding that many students don’t have the capacity right now to fully engage in that… [it’s] frustrating for the students because they know that they would enjoy it, they could enjoy it, but they’re just having a hard time. And it’s also for faculty to calibrate what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate. And this time, I think our students are in such different places where some kids are like, ‘I am ready, let’s go, this is what I came for,’ and others are like, ‘I’m just not there.’”