“Regular” and “Honors” classes have been separated since we were in middle school. For some of us, it began even earlier than that. The classes we were sorted into held huge weight in measuring our self-esteem for some; for others, it made no difference. The tracking and separating of students has always been controversial, and probably always will be.
It is expected that curriculum and rigor will vary greatly between honors and regular classes. That is what the division is designed for. However, the difference in expectations between students of the two classes goes beyond academic achievement, and that is where the distinction gets dangerous.
Teachers often set lower standards for the character of students in their regular classes. This not only demeans students by associating scholastic performance with personal qualities, but sets up students for an unbreakable cycle of low-achievement.
In some regular classes, walk in and you might find a resigned teacher sitting at the front of the room, the class absorbed in side conversations. This doesn’t speak to a trend in non-honors students; it speaks to the consequences of teachers who expect little from their classes.
One teacher, notorious for confiscating cell phones in their honors classes, has been known to “let it slide” in regular classes. There may be other motives behind this drastic behavioral shift, but one can assume that it involves the notion that students in regular classes have little to contribute anyway.
These low standards are set for kids in “regular” classes as soon as we enter sixth grade. Expectations are never raised, so those students never have a chance to excel. That’s how students get stuck on one path, never able to move up.
What makes this worse is that in general, more qualified teachers are assigned to honors classes. Most students who have experience in both honors and regular classes will agree that there are several teachers of lower-level classes who seem to be clueless when it comes to leading a class. This is counterintuitive; regular classes are the ones that need skilled and experienced teachers to head them. When low expectations are mixed with inexperienced teachers, it’s a recipe for kids to fall short.
We set students up for failure when we tell them that they’re destined to do poorly––not just academically, but socially and emotionally. If the bar is never raised, students will never excel. That’s a pattern that those students will find themselves repeating, not just in middle school, not just in high school, but for the rest of their lives. The potential is there for success; but if no one tells you that, how will you know to look for it?