I attended an interesting meeting after school today, a discussion about what makes an honors program at the high school. We brought up loads of ideas and good points to pursue further, but a number of things stuck in my mind – maybe it’s because I have been at teaching for over 30 years.
Point 1 – and I think the MOST important when it comes to learning – is that the JOY of learning is gone for students. Everything is assessment-based, to the detriment of actually learning. Students no longer know what to do with an idea that might be interesting, or a book to read that’s recommended just because it’s good. A number of years ago – and this was before the mess that is NCLB – I asked my fifth graders to choose a piece of science fiction and read it. I then spent 15 minutes trying to convince them that there was no assignment or test – they might just find the book interesting. It truly was a foreign concept. Nowadays it seems that students try to figure out just what they need to do to pass a test and get the grade. The actualy learning is way down the scale.
Point 2 – “regular” classes are now considered the “stupid” classes. This was a shock to me. I am three years into teaching at this school, and I know there’s a strong Honors/AP set of classes. For two years I’ve been working with the kids who had difficulty all through middle school with math. A good many of them didn’t belong in the support classes, and they would admit they didn’t want to do the work. Now I am teaching “regular” algebra classes, and trying to improve on the rigor in the classes. It never occurred to me that is was considered “poor form” to be in a regular class as opposed to an honors class. The big question is how to we provide an education that is rigorous and appropriate for every student? Given the class sizes this year, it’s even harder than in the past.
Point 3 – should there be requirements for being in an honors class? When I taught AP US History, I let anyone in who waned the challenge. My biggest class was 33 and most of them worked really hard in the class. When we looked at stats last year for our students who are exceeding on the #^$%@$# state assessment test, we found we had fewer and fewer kids who were excelling. Students were getting by. So requirements or open invitation? How do we get kids to take the challenge and want to do some appropriate and different work?
From the meeting I went to the chiropractor. This year is taking a huge toll on me physically: cement floors for very sore legs, white board writing which is throwing out my shoulder, long class periods that are messing with my bladder – this is definitely a job for young people. And then I listen to discussions, and I think that nothing ever changes, it only gets worse. I guess I really do recognize that it’s getting to be time to retire…I can’t generate the enthusiasm that I used to, even two years ago.
Education will always continue to be a work in progress, which is as it should be…..but we need to see some progress somewhere along the way….