English teacher questions the importance of honors classes

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Letter to the Editor

Originally published on May 26, 2016

Dear Editors,

I would like to retract my statement about the ninth grade honors course. While having honors classes may be “nice” in terms of offering students a range of classes, I do not think it matters, especially when I consider the stresses a typical ninth grader already experiences in finding their way in high school. Point in case, my own bumbling experiences as a high school student: In middle school, I was not allowed to take the course, even though I had the test scores, and my mother wanted me to. With good reason — I was immature and not engaged and I was on average one to two years younger than my peers. I took this immaturity with me to my ninth grade English class, where I earned a B, but was petulant. I did not like the teacher, nor most of the texts we studied. I did not want to try. White Fang, and Call of The Wild? Bah. Vocab tests, and plot summaries? I did not care. (When I took that same teacher again my senior year for AP, I realized he didn’t care about his non honors/AP classes either — He’d often say to us, “Come on now, even my non AP classes can get this.”)

What changed me was my sophomore year, and having a teacher who challenged us, and did care whether we were an honors class or not. She inspired us to look for deeper meanings in the texts we were studying — oh, Shakespeare could be rather saucy in his use of double entendres. And yes, Mercutio was using an extended metaphor in his Queen Mab speech that did more than just resemble what we were learning in our Health class. Something clicked in me, and the teacher suggested that I try and take her AP class the next year. I was terrified, but just that urging made me want to try. That said, I did not get an A my first semester in AP English of my junior year. King Lear and Hamlet were tough, and I had to work hard to get a B. However, the experience taught me what it meant to really study literature.

By spring semester, I was ready for James Joyce’s Portrait of The Artist, which made King Lear seem easy in comparison. If I thought I worked hard my first semester, that second semester, I worked even harder and got an A, and a 4 on my AP exam. Hence, I was not ready for honors English my first year of high school, not because I didn’t have the skills as much as the motivation, or the maturity.

The English teachers at our school all care about their students and use a rich and far more challenging curriculum than most schools nationwide. By the time our students get to 11th grade, they’ll be ready to take on the challenge of AP, if they’re ready to work for it.

Nicole Henares, Lowell English teacher