School Is Too Easy

This week, I’m featuring posts from five students who have shared their thoughts on what they would, if they could, change about school.

Today’s post is from Emily.  Her take?  School should be more of a challenge.

*

I’m a high school student at a nationally acclaimed magnet school. I go there because my home school wouldn’t offer me the kind of education I’m after. So a nationally ranked school that promises college prep and world readiness should offer some sort of challenge to an intelligent, determined, hard working student, right?

Wrong.

School is EASY. And I know, I know, not everyone thinks so. A lot of my friends don’t think so. And I also know that I am not the majority. I was in gifted classes all through middle and elementary school, so I’m used to having someone say: This is the minimum. If you do this, you will a C. I don’t want C work, I want A work. I want you to give me all you’ve got. I’m used to being expected to produce work that I’m proud of, not work that passes under minimum inspection.

So now I’m at a supposedly challenging high school, and I can scrape by with barely any effort. I’m bored out of my skull. I’m two years ahead in math and in AP history and it’s NOT ENOUGH. Teachers don’t expect anything of us, and we’re the cream of the crop! So they say, anyhow. My problem with school is that I am a student who wants to give everything I have. I want someone to tell me that it isn’t enough just to try. I want a teacher who will stimulate me intellectually, creatively, and emotionally. I want people to stop telling me that I’m the best of the best and start treating me like I am. If I turn in an essay that took me five hours to perfect and get the same grade as someone who did it that morning on the bus, I’m not going to be spending five hours on my next essay, I promise you that much.

My realization has been that the problem with my slacker friends didn’t start with them. They didn’t have the classes I had early in life. They never got pushed to do their best. So they think that their best is giving up. They think their best is what they can do before they get bored. They never had someone tell them that they were capable of great things, that they had it in them, that their minimum effort was not acceptable. I feel like my fellow students have almost been… punished.

Instead of preparing us for a standardized test, prepare us to be intelligent, educated, informed adults. Turn us into scholars, not drones. If you expect the minimum out of us… we’ll give it to you.

I’m sick and tired of being treated like a teenager. Treat me like a student. I want to LEARN.

*

What do you think of Emily’s perspective?  Do you agree that schools need to change to accommodate more gifted students?  Please leave your thoughts.

Tomorrow’s post:  Aewl thinks that we shouldn’t go to college until we can pay for it.

Image by Horton Group

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18 responses

  1. Wow! This is quite an interesting perspective, and at first read I think that teachers need to raise expectations, especially for a student like this. However, having been a teacher, I also know it’s hard to keep those high expectations when so many students don’t appear eager to learn. To this particular student, I would say that I’m sorry not many teachers are expecting enough of you, but I do hope that one day soon, one teacher will live up to your expectations and have you reaching for the stars. Until that day, take it into your own hands and read, study, go to the library and find books on topics you haven’t studied yet, and stretch that young mind of yours, so that when that stellar teacher comes along, you’ll be ready.

  2. “accommodate more gifted students” I don’t think it’s the proper phrase. Just that it’s true that education should consist more of activities that stimulates creativity and knowledge. But it should not be too challenging… or else only Emily will be in advantage… We want everyone to participate right? :)
    Education is way too far from real life situations… except in Literature because there you can learn concepts of different lives of different periods of time… Maybe there are other more interesting subjects but in most countries students are stuck with mainly English and Maths and that’s… well it becomes boring after some time.
    But my cousin who is in Australia says she does do activities while learning by doing group works, sketches, presentations… It all depends on the country I guess…

  3. From the perspective of a blind student who has become a teacher, I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to say that it’s not enough to ask students to “just try”. I grew up in a system that didn’t think I could even try, so whenever a teacher pulled me aside–especially a Math teacher, because Math is such a visual subejct–and told me, “Just try,” that was the chance of a lifetime. If there’s one thing that having a disability has taught me, it’s that students come from different backgrounds and have different learning styles and academic needs. We need to be sensitive to the fact that what comes easily to some students is a challenge to others. I teach colelge writing and Literature, and something my first mentore told me has always stuck with me: when you have an essay that looks like it was written in five minutes, don’t automatically assume so; that might have taken the student ten hours, and he struggled with every word, because writing doesn’t come easily to him. I don’t mean that we shoudl always give students the benefit of doubt and give them credit for just trying, but we need to be aware that there are nuances to “trying”. When I ask a student to try, I’m asking her to give it her best effort. to me, trying–real, legitimate trying–takes effort. If a student writes an essay on a bus, that’s not trying. If a student comes to my office hours, consults me about the draft, and actually presents me a paper in her own words rather than writing the example thesis statement I suggested word-for-word, even if it’s not an A+ paper, the student recognize that learning takes effort, and she’s not always going to get it right the first time.

  4. I can hear the frustration in Emily’s voice – and yet I think that being an advocate for herself may be one way to improve her experience. This may be the most important lesson she will learn. The education is there and the providers of that education are there; Emily needs to put forth the idea to those people that she requires a challenge. The fact that she is gifted tells us nothing about her other than that on a standardized test she performed at a certain level. Both of my children tested in the gifted range but could not be more different in what they require from their education. I work with students with special needs who the system differentiates for and I have found that to be equally true for my own children’s needs at the points where they fall on the spectrum. Mostly this was due to their own self advocacy – asking for more or asking for help to create their own path.

    Education should not be something that students feel is delivered to them but that they are active participants in. What does it mean to be an intelligent, educated, informed adults? When Emily can answer that question she will know how SHE can seek that out. Most teachers I know would relish the opportunity to work with a student to chart her path.

  5. I think it is a mistake to rely on the school system to meet the needs of the exceptional student.

    The problem, as already mentioned, is that classes cannot cater to the very best students without leaving everyone else behind. Further, within a given class, a teacher cannot change the requirements of an assignment for students of different levels–most (all?) administrations prohibit this both to provide a ‘consistent learning experience’ and to protect themselves legally from parents who might then claim that their child was discriminated against.

    Although none of this prevents a school from having classes specifically tailored for genius, if your school doesn’t have such classes–and, as you’ve noticed, AP and the like operate at a level well below that–you have to bridge the gap through your own initiative.

    That, I think, is something no school is likely to teach you, but it is one of the most valuable things you can cultivate for yourself.

  6. Just goes to show you that in teaching were, “…damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.” She wants more challenge? She wants more rigor? She says its too easy? She wants teachers to expect more of her?

    How about expecting more of yourself, young lady! Drop the “victim” mentality…the one that says, “I’m here at school, now educate me to my satisfaction.” You say it makes you angry that you work 5 hours on a paper, and receive the same grade as someone who pulled the paper together on the bus that morning. First of all, how are teachers suppose to know how much time and effort are put into student assignments, especially those done outside of school? We don’t follow you home at night, and we certainly aren’t on the bus with you coming to school. We should be able to tell by the quality of the paper, right? And a 5-hour effort paper should contain more quality than a “thrown together at the last minute” paper, right? Well, you would think so, but life is not so cut and dried. There is nothing fair about anything in this world, and its time you realized that. Having attained two colllege degrees I would like my income to reflect that I am educated and professional, but I meet people all the time who haven’t spent the time or the money on an education the way I have, and yet make tons more money than I do. Fair? Not at all, but that’s our society.

    If you want more rigor and challenge, how about challenging yourself? Is there an aspect of your education that interests you? Delve into it deeply. Pose a question, generate a hypothesis, and see if you can figure it out. Have you approached a teacher and ask for something more challenging? Have you talked with any of your instructors about giving you harder work? Don’t wait for that magical instructor whose going “inspire” you to greatness. Inspire yourself!!

    What our society needs to realize, including students, is to stop expecting to sit back and wait for the world to give you what you think you need. We need to take the initiative and start doing for ourselves and giving to ourselves what we need. Thats where the real “genius” lies.

    • “If you want more rigor and challenge, how about challenging yourself?”

      This was my first thought after reading Emily’s piece. However, she is still young and needs to figure this out. Inherent to the “expecting” attitude, is the thought that adults (teachers) are all-knowing, almost god-like creatures, which of course they aren’t. They don’t know everything, they make mistakes, just like everyone else. Accept this and work with what you’ve got.

      When I was in secondary school, I felt the same as Emily. I was excited to go to university, because “everything would be different there”. But alas, it wasn’t. It was at that point in my life that I figured out that I was smart enough to take things into my own hands and make myself responsible for my own learning. This is an exciting realization. I hope you come to it soon, Emily.

    • Bravo! I especially loved the part that says, “Having attained two college degrees I would like my income to reflect that I am educated and professional, but I meet people all the time who haven’t spent the time or the money on an education the way I have, and yet make tons more money than I do. Fair? Not at all, but that’s our society.”

      I could say this exact same sentence. Too often teachers are seen as the “be all, end all” to Education, but Education involves more than just the teacher. It is up to the students, teachers, and parents to make learning more than just something that happens during class. It is time that some of the responsibility went back to the students and parents.

      To Emily- Be the captain of your own learning. Design projects, ask for assistance from your teachers, challenge yourself. Only you can know how high your potential will allow you to soar. Do not blame teachers when you have not told them that you want more. Most teachers are used to students who don’t, so unless you express a want or need, we won’t know it’s there.

  7. A very thought-provoking post! Meeting the needs of my diverse student population is something that I struggle with. I know that I can raise the bar. Now I just need to actually do it.*

  8. This is so true! I was a gifted student 2nd through 8th grade but for some reason we don’t have it at our high school anymore.

    The thing about the essay really upsets me. English has always been my favorite subject so of course I’m going to try my hardest especially on essays. I think some teachers are blinded by the students that always do their work at the last minute. What they don’t understand is that some of us actually want to learn and its not fair that they don’t see how hard we work. I’m pretty sure there’s a huge difference between a four hour paper and a four minute paper.

    If its one thing I hate, its when a teacher doesn’t explain something clearly, you ask a question and they tell you to figure it out. This has happened to me so many times and I’m so annoyed by it. A teachers job is to teach and to explain. Sure enough some students simply don’t care and they just don’t want to learn, but eventually you’ll figure out who those students are. Don’t punish all of us for someone elses mistakes.

  9. On the other hand, not everyone learns at the same pace. Whether you’re a gifted student or not. I was in a gifted class for seven years and their are still things that I don’t understand and there are a lot of things that I’ve forgotten. So don’t forget there are other students in the classroom and sometimes working too hard and too fast is stressful for some people including myself.

  10. Thanks so much to all of you for your observations! I will leave it up to Emily as to whether she’d like to respond, but I’m sure she’d love to hear more of your comments, so keep ‘em coming.

  11. That was a very interesting post. Emily, if you want a challenge, then study things that interest you outside of school. Find out what your interests are, and don’t wait until college to pursue and study them. Start right now, so when you’re in college, you’ll have an advantage over the other students. I did that, too, because school wasn’t challenging for me. But I knew that the teachers could only do so much, so I had to make up for the rest of it on my own. I read articles, and books about business and investing, and I contacted people who are working in those areas, and I learned everything I could from them whenever I wasn’t in school. I’m not interested in college, but I am interested in business. That kind of education, learning from those who are doing what you want to do, is probably the best way to learn stuff. But yeah, maybe that’s just me. Hopefully not.
    Anyway, great job! That was a thought-provoking post. Cheers.

  12. As a teacher for 35 years, I taught every grade except kindergarten. My teaching experience extended to Adult Ed in Maine and Maryland, high school English in a Maryland psychiatric facility, and to inmates in the Maryland state prison as well.

    Teaching and writing have always been my passions. I retired early from teaching and turned to writing full time when the death knell sounded on my creativity in the classroom. We were being forced to “teach to the test” and that was something I refused to do. I longed for the days when I heard students saying “ Gee whiz! Three o’clock already?” I knew I had to be doing something right! The projects we planned and carried out were amazing! How about these?

    I placed my fourth graders in “medical school” to learn Greek and Latin roots: Upon “graduation from medical school”, the “doctors” were then invited to perform a “rootectomy”. My classroom was turned into an X-Ray lab and operating room with supplies donated by the local hospital.

    Another fourth grade class buried a 50 year time capsule, enlisting the help of various businesses to make it truly professional. A granite marker rests at the base of the school flag At Montello Elementary School in Lewiston Maine. It reads:
    Ms. Giampaolo’s* Fourth Grade Class
    We are the past ~ you are the future
    1987-2037

    Another one of my classes wrote a “term paper” based on their three major fears: death, divorce, and nuclear disaster. I wanted them to learn the key elements of writing such a paper and as a result of our playground conversations, I discovered what concerned them the most.
    They weren’t satisfied with just writing about their fears. They wanted to know what other fourth graders in the school district were afraid of so they took a survey and compiled the results in bar graph displays. Their artwork embellished the text.
    Geiger Brothers, publishers of the Farmer’s Almanac, agreed to publish the students’ work in a soft cover booklet and subsequently adopted the school with special help.

    Upon being awarded a $2000 grant from the Maine State Dept. of Education for my proposal, “Unlearning Indian Stereotypes”, another one of my fourth grade classes hosted 15 children from one of the Indian reservations. These children were paired up with some of my students for an overnight stay.
    We began with a cookout for our visitors – adults and children. Afterwards, the adults were treated to a Bed & Breakfast place and the children went off with their hosts. The next day we had an all-day celebration with all fourth graders participating in learning about Indian culture, dance, medicine; helping to erect a teepee, and ending with a performance my fourth graders put on for our guests.

    This is just a sampling of what creative teaching can and should be…and it punctuates what is being said in this blog.

    *** taken from the Introduction to “This Business of Children”

  13. I am a 12 year old and already go to a school for children of above intelligence ,but I find it really easy , I get A’s without trying , I am in the top math set , go to Quantum physics club , am in an online gifted programme etc. One girl in my class thought Einstein was a girl an that cows and pigs don’t have tails. Yes I am considered a geek ( I start intellectual debates with my friends about our exsistence and “the book of general ignorance’)
    Many will disagree but I think they should make exams harder as it is not fair to the intelligent if we get the same grades of those who aren’t . Easy exams will also effect our colleges and later life.
    How come Germany are much higher in academic ratings of the US and england ( which are 31st and 29th respectively) ? In Germany children go to school until 1 .This is because being a teacher is thought of as a mediocre job choice in the US but in other countries it is considered an honour.
    We have to come up with ways of making schooling posotive , something to enjoy , and all the negative media input circling around doesn’t help . If you are students , I really hope part of our future will be setting right the perilously poached and flailing curiculum .

  14. I think that it’s reasonable to ask a teacher to provide enrichment and differentiation when a child is generally within 2 grade levels of her classmates. http://www.susanwinebrenner.com/ for some excellent resources. But there will always be children who are on unusual developmental paths that need to be placed with children who are older in age, but peers in academic readiness.

    Which begs the question – are students routinely checked to see what their knowledge and skill level is before a unit is begun? To me, it makes complete sense to diagnose where the child is before designing an academic experience to teach them. I’ve hear many stories where a child’s reading level is tested up to their grade level and no further. Teachers say, ‘I don’t have access to higher grade material.’ and ‘Why bother to test if we aren’t going to do anything different anyway?’

    Can you imagine going to the Dentist for a yearly check up, and the Dentist saying: OK, you need to come back for 2 more visits to fill cavities.
    You: Gosh, Do I have 2 cavities?
    Dentist: Not that I know of – I really have no idea. But according to this chart, and my experience, most people your age have cavities in this area and this area, so I’ll be doing fillings there.

    My guess is that you would want to have your own cavities filled, not fillings placed according to demographic trends. Even if 90% of people did have cavities in those exact places, you’d want to be sure you weren’t in that 10%, right?

    And my guess is that most adults have sat through continuing education classes that covered material that they already thoroughly knew. I’d rather call my Dentist and have a random tooth drilled than spend another day in that sort of class. So why do we expect children to spend their time going through the motions of learning, but forced to underachieve?

    Smiles,
    Robin

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