Ever asked a high school student how he or she feels when they are at school? Most of the time, their answer will be “tired,” closely followed by “stressed” and “bored.”
A nationwide survey made by the researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center found that 75% of the 21,678 U.S. students involved in this study expressed negative feelings related to school.
The study was published in the January edition of the Journal of Learning and Instruction, alongside a second “experience sampling” study in which 472 high schoolers from Connecticut shared the feelings, they go through in different moments of a school day. The result was the same in both studies: 60% of the time they reported negative feelings about their time spent at the school.
“It was higher than we expected,” said co-author and research scientist Zorana Ivcevic. “We know from talking to students that they are feeling tired, stressed, and bored, but were surprised by how overwhelming it was.”
They recruited their students for this survey through email lists of partner schools and other social media channels from nonprofits like the Greater Good Science Center and Born this Way Foundation. The students involved in this study come from urban, suburban and rural schools across all 50 states, both public and private schools.
Despite their demographic division, they all have reported mostly negative thoughts about high school, mentioning that girls were a little more negative than boys.
“Overall,” said co-author Marc Brackett, “students see school as a place where they experience negative emotions.”
The first online survey asked students to “think about the range of positive and negative feelings you have in school” and they had to provide answers in the three open text boxes. They were had to rate on a scale of 0 (never) to 100 (always) how often they felt these 10 emotions at school: happy, proud, cheerful, joyful, lively, sad, mad, miserable, afraid, scared, stressed and bored.
In the open text boxes, the most common emotions that the students reported were tired (58%), followed by stressed, bored, calm, bored and happy, all under 50%.
The rating scale revealed students reporting feeling stressed (79.83%) and bored (69.51%) the most.
When their feelings are analyzed with more granularity, said Ivcevic, they reveal something interesting. The most-used positive feelings — calm and happy — are vague.
“They are on the positive side of zero,” Ivcevic said, “but they are not energized or enthusiastic.”
“Feeling interested or curious, she noted, would reveal a high level of engagement that is predictive of deeper and more enduring learning” she adds.
She also explained that these negative feelings that the students have expressed may be connected to tiredness, contributing to boredom and stress.
“Boredom is in many ways similar to being tired,” she said. “It’s a feeling of being drained, low-energy. Physical states, such as being tired, can be at times misattributed as emotional states, such as boredom.”
The researchers explained that the way the students feel when they are at school goes hand in hand with their performance and overall health.
“Students spend a lot of their waking time at school,” Ivcevic said. “Kids are at school to learn, and emotions have a substantial impact on their attention. If you’re bored, do you hear what’s being said around you?”
The early hours when the school starts has now entered public attention because it can contribute to sleep deprivation among students, which can lead to other health risks, like poor academic performances, weight gain, depression, and drug use. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that high school should start at 8:30 a.m. or later, even though the majority start later.
“It is possible that being tired is making school more taxing,” Ivcevic said, “so that it is more difficult for students to show curiosity and interest. It is like having an extra weight to carry.”
Regretfully, the decisions about the early school start times are made without considering students’ health and wellbeing.
“There has been a movement in recent years to move school start times later,” she said. “The reasons for not moving it have nothing to do with students’ wellbeing or their ability to learn.”