Editor’s note: As part of Education Lab this school year, we selected a panel of students to write essays about education issues that matter to them. This is the last of the series. Here’s the first, second, third and fourth essays.
I’ve always taken the most challenging classes offered to me. I just finished my sophomore year at Walla Walla High School where I took all the honors-level classes I could and maintained a 4.0 grade-point average.
Yet over the course of this past school year, I was constantly asking myself why I don’t struggle more in my classes. Am I not being challenged enough?
I set out to try and answer that question by talking with teachers at my school.
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Lori Dohe, my English teacher, said if one of her students felt unchallenged, she would not send him or her to a higher-level class.
“I mostly find that students who appear bored in class, and claim the work is too easy, are not applying themselves completely to the task,” Dohe said. She added that a student who thinks a piece of literature is too simple is not looking deep enough.
She said she would work with the student individually and decide how to increase the difficulty of work. She might, for example, give students a list of College Board-approved reading materials to push students to challenge themselves. Dohe believes that, regardless of what a student may think, a sophomore is basically incapable of over-analyzing a piece of literature. They can always look at more complex themes of a novel, she said, or look deeper into the history behind a piece of poetry.
Curtis Schafer, who teaches Spanish and German, said if students are bored in his class, they should pick up a book or watch a movie in the language they are learning, or find a native speaker.
“I have no sympathy for those who say they are bored because they are not being challenged,” Schafer said. “There are many ways to increase the difficulty, without moving up a level in the class.”
After talking with Dohe and Schafer, I decided to stop complaining about not feeling challenged in my classes and took their advice.
In my English class, I dove deeper into our poetry unit, and began analyzing poems on my own time, using the skills we learned in class and applying them to more difficult pieces. By doing this, I discovered that I have a passion for poetry and now feel an intense interest in a class I used to feel was a walk in the park. Not only have I gained knowledge in doing this, I’ve also seen how creating a more strenuous workload for myself can make me a more prepared and determined individual.
As for my Spanish class, I got a job at a local Mexican restaurant, working around native speakers and testing myself every day with how much I could understand. I practiced speaking Spanish to my pets at home, and I wrote in Spanish in my free time. In short, I did what Schafer recommended and found that I was learning more because I was immersing myself in the language.
In the end, what began as a question for my teachers turned into an examination of myself and my motivation as a student. I now believe students need to recognize that we can always be doing more on our own time, and that a less-than-rigorous curriculum shouldn’t give us an excuse to not challenge ourselves. Education should be a joint effort between students and teachers.
Macy Quinn-Sears is a rising junior at Walla Walla High School in Walla Walla, Washington. She wants to pursue her passion for writing through working in journalism, and writing free-verse poetry.