School Stress RX: Healing Our Relationships With Learning

Many teens say academic stress overpowers their love of learning, from tests to essays to the constant pressure to be productive. 

By Beth Fertig

Click on the full episode of This Teenage Life here and wherever podcasts are found. 

By Beth Fertig

Many teens say academic stress overpowers their love of learning, from tests to essays to the constant pressure to be productive. 

“I think right now with high school, it’s very much centered around quantity,” 18-year-old Stella, from Illinois, explains in this latest XQ-sponsored episode of the podcast This Teenage Life. She describes the problem as “How much you can fit in a day over how well people actually understand the concepts.”

How can teachers and students make a difference? Especially when too many young people say, “I’m not a science person” or “I’m not a coding person.” This episode explores various strategies, including shifting how we teach and learn math.

Educators say one solution is to foster wonder and joy, helping to heal students’ relationships with learning. Taina Coleman, an educational specialist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City, says teachers should ask students, “What are you good at? What do you love? What excites you?” even though it takes more work. Sarah Strong, co-author of Dear Math and a teacher at High Tech High in California, offers these tips:

  • “When schools co-opt the idea that the only way to learn is teacher to student with this very strict syllabus and only this way, we’re really losing sight of all the other opportunities where learning is meaningful.”
  • She says math holds too much power over students because it’s become shorthand for “being smart.” One of her students describes how Strong’s math classes were more enjoyable because they included collaboration.
  • “To me, that’s the role of the teacher in the space,” says Strong. “Creative spaces where students can have really interesting ideas and wrestle with them with their peers.”

XQ is proud to sponsor TTL because we know caring, trusting relationshipsbetween students and teachers are vital. That’s why they’re among the six research-backed XQ Design Principles for transforming the high school experience. They also have the potential to help combat a youth mental health crisis that’s become achingly obvious since the pandemic. 

 By listening to students’ ideas and concerns we’re achieving another one of our design principlesyouth voice and choice. When teens feel valued, they can also thrive in school—putting them on the path to success in college or careers.

We believe conversations like these are important for educators to hear if they’re to fully appreciate their students and help them reach their full potential. 

Listen to previous TTL episodes dealing with high school, sponsored by XQ:

“Just Checking In” (October 2023)

“Back to School” (September 2023)

“Summer Reading” (June 2023)

“The College Process” (May 2023)

“How Teachers Can Make Us Feel Safe” (January 2023)

“Academic Pressure” (December 2022)

“Making Friends”  (October 2022)

Dealing with Transitions, Like Starting High School (September 2022)

“How the Pandemic Changed Us” (June 2022)

Teens Discuss What Mattered Most to Them in High School Classes (May 2022)

“How Teachers Can Help Students Feel Seen” (May 2022) 

Art by Cloe Moreno, provided by This Teenage Life