For many students, spring break supposedly promises trips to warmer climates, time spent at home with family or simply a chance to recharge from academic pressure. As the word “break” suggests, students look forward to enjoying a week off from the high intensity Amherst workload and lifestyle. However, most students found themselves swamped during what ended up being a week away from school with the same amount of work, and many students even opted to stay on campus to catch up on work. While we don’t mean to suggest that assigning work during break is entirely unacceptable, professors often use the week off to assign papers or unusually heavy reading loads. The amount of work that accumulates from the typical four-class schedule results in no time for the reflection or self-care that the college so actively encourages students to engage in.
Many classes had deadlines that fell during the spring break week. Papers due on the Monday or Tuesday of break ensured that the first few precious days of freedom were instead packed with reading and drafting. And, the stress is not limited to humanities-based classes. Many students spent their breaks cramming for mid-terms scheduled for the week following their return to campus. Some students recognized this problem, and started an online survey that asked students who felt overwhelmed by their workload over break to anonymously list their majors and detail the various assignments they were expected to complete within the week.
This is all not to say that professors should not assign work over break. Professors want us to learn, and we want to learn, too. However, there is a point at which assigning more work is counterproductive, because students are overwhelmed and ultimately burn out. Students often point out this problem, and despite the recent forum on workload at which this issue was discussed, little progress has been made. While we acknowledge that coordination across departments is difficult, we can still push for realistic changes.
Professors could create a “buffer window,” in which there are no exams during the first three days following break. This would allow students to use the first few days back on campus after break to study, rather than cramming for exams during their time away from school. Another easy fix is to simply have no assignments due during break. Professors can realistically shuffle their syllabi around so that take-home exams and writing assignments are due before break. And, having reading assignments over break is of course fine, but it should be a realistic amount, something that can be completed between two class meetings. Professors may feel like the significance of their courses are being diminished by the lack of work, but in reality, a true break to reflect on classwork during break can improve students’ motivation and attention in their classes and prevent them from returning to Amherst feeling burnt out and lacking passion.
It’s troubling that the “break should really be a break” conversation seems to be one that’s lingered across campus. Professors have different philosophies regarding assigning work over break, and some have done an admirable job of being mindful of students workloads, but clearly change is necessary in many classes. It’s unrealistic to ask students to use their minimal allotted time to recharge as extra time to stress about assignments. The conversation has gone on far too long, and it’s time for concrete, productive steps to be taken.