Forest Gump’s mother once said “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” For teachers, the first day of school holds the same amount of uncertainty. They could walk into their classroom and find a class full of attentive and well-behaved students. They could also – just as easily – be given a class full of rascals who just want to throw around paper airplanes. In this game of chance, teachers are taking a gamble on their sanity for the next semester.
However, it probably doesn’t even need to be said that all students are not the same; this should be an obvious fact. Some students are extremely dedicated to their academics and have a 4.0 GPA; others only come to school two days a week, barely managing to graduate. With every shade of gray in between these two polar opposites, if one wanted a student’s opinion on the educational system they would naturally receive varying opinions depending on who they asked.
I can’t speak for the ancient Greeks and Romans, nor can I be the voice of the elite children of 18th century England. Even so, I do not think that it would require me to go too far out on a limb to say that school has historically been complained about by its pupils. Homework, tests, teachers, various school policies, cafeteria lunches and even school start times have become the focus of today’s student’s criticisms.
Yet, it is not only those students who appear less-motivated and uninterested in their education who put in their own two-cents. The students at the top of the class, who enjoy learning and being in a classroom, often have much to say themselves. Challenging themselves to take the hardest classes and to ultimately do what it takes to be accepted into the most prestigious colleges can prove to be especially taxing on the mind and body. The stress can build up just as fast as the homework piles grow causing these students to become embittered by all that is expected of them.
In today’s increasingly competitive society, the students who are the crème of the crop are being pushed farther than ever before. But when these students complain about school, they don’t complain about having to sit in a seat and learn – they love learning! They complain about how they have so much homework that they don’t go to bed until the early hours of the morning. They complain that they’re expected to play sports (well), volunteer (regularly), and participate in a plethora of extracurricular activities (holding leadership positions) while maintaining a perfect GPA. They complain that in order to maintain their perfect GPA, they must be outstanding in every subject, even those that they are uninterested in turning into a career. They even complain that B’s are stigmatized: it’s a fine grade, but not for them, a top notch student.
Now, I do not mean to say these students deserve the pity of everyone around them. When one signs up for a rigorous schedule, they should be expected to give their full effort and dedication. If one is interested in going to one of the best schools in the nation, then they need to diversify the activities in which they participate in, actively doing all that they can to make themselves a strong candidate for acceptance. There are certain behaviors and outcomes that are necessary to be considered as a star student and if one is not willing to go the extra mile then they should not expect to be rewarded.
Even so, I believe that the word “expectations” has evolved into a monster that has since graduated from hiding under beds. It now trails behind you like a shadow, giving you a good shove once in a while to make sure that you didn’t forget that it was there. The aforementioned complaints are not made out of laziness but rather they are made with the recognition that there are simply not enough hours in a day to be the super-student that exists only in one’s imagination. Would a student with a true passion for learning really have so many grievances?
With all of the extra responsibility put on the backs of high-performing high school students, school loses its attractiveness. I don’t believe that there should be a single reason that students dislike school or are unable to have a good time while learning. What does it prove about a teenager that they can complete mounds of homework at the cost of sleeping? How are students even able to maintain their academic standing if they are given a plate that is two times too full? Is there a point when one can say that this is more than sufficient preparation for a college workload?
Nevertheless, when it comes to activating change it is often the students who do not like going to school who complain the loudest. I do not doubt that this group has some comments that are worth listening to – after all, if we listened to their opinions then perhaps we could learn what to change to help them like school more. On the other hand, those who take all honors, AP, and IB classes, are often much quieter but have equally as valuable considerations. With such a commitment to their schoolwork they are bound to have made quality observations, making note of possible improvements.
If students could present their thoughts professionally, omitting the whininess, then teachers and administrators might actually be excited to work and collaborate with such devoted students! Together these groups should be able to determine how to effectively teach accelerated classes in a way that is not debilitating for the student in any way, shape, or form. As facilitators of learning, teachers should be open to considering changes, understanding that the points made by their students are made seriously.
With a bit of reform, I believe that more students would be encouraged to sign up for higher-level classes and thus challenge themselves more in school. Such a schedule would be a little bit less daunting and the task might even be taken on with excitement. If a teacher’s dream is to have no doubt that they will always walk into a classroom full of well-behaved and curious pupils then an open ear and a willingness to rethink old ideas is key.