Standard and Advanced Classes

by Leonel Najera

My Transition Experience

I was in standard classes my first two years at George Bush High School. My grades sophomore year were good enough to catch a counselor’s attention and he recommended that I take Pre-AP and AP classes my junior year. I was told that students learn more in those classes and they are prepared for AP exams which can earn college credit if they scores adequately enough. My first few months as an AP student were about adjusting. They were certainly harder and more demanding than the standard classes. Many of the students were experienced honor students and there were many times I felt like my performance and work was inferior to theirs. There were plenty of times when I noticed that I did not have to put in my best effort to ace a project or pass an exam. It was always very easy, for me at least. However, there was a considerably high number of students who performed poorly in the normal classes and made almost no effort even when teachers would basically let them know exactly everything that would be covered on an exam or that questions used from previous quizzes would be recycled on tests.

Student Differences

Compared to the honors students, the students in normal classes as a whole cared much less about their education. Many of them would use their jobs as an excuse for not doing schoolwork and projects over the weekend and had no problem telling teachers that a paying job took priority over school. There were much more incidents of disrespect toward teachers in the normal classes compared to the advanced classes. Immaturity was a larger issue and it clearly frustrated teachers. It was not uncommon to hear teachers comment how they could not comprehend that students were failing classes in high school that middle school students should pass with ease. Students would respond with their own opinions about a teacher’s lack of intelligence and insignificance of what they taught. There were students who disrupted class every day disciplinary action was ineffective for most of them. What I found unsettling was that the students who behaved the most inappropriately my freshman and sophomore year were actually older, retained students. Some of them were already eighteen and I remember one commenting—and not jokingly—that he could probably be twenty-two years old when and if he graduated high school. I knew a few students who eventually dropped out and I remember that none of them were advanced or honors students

Teacher Differences

The teachers in my freshman and sophomore year were actually less supportive than the Pre-AP and AP teachers I had junior and senior year. In retrospect, their coursework was considerably less thought-provoking and engaging. If students were struggling it was as if they were left to continue struggling. I do remember some students saying that they did require a little more help to learn some material and teachers were sometimes reluctant to provide assistance because they believed the student should have learned or understood the material sufficiently based on how they taught it. This lack of instruction was an unfair experience a lot of students went through. The AP classes expected students to succeed and the teachers helped them to the best of their abilities. In the normal classes, many of the students expected to scrape by with bare minimum work and I could see that teachers left some students alone after efforts to get through to struggling students repeatedly failed.

Stayed Apart

One realization that hits me when I look back on this is that there seemed to be separate cultures between standard and honors students. For the most part from what I can remember, the students in the advanced classes mainly interacted with only other advanced students and the same applied to the normal students. This separation persisted even in lunch periods and elective courses that both classes of students attended together.

Graduation

I graduated in the top ten percent of my class and students who made that distinction were placed separately at the front section of the graduation ceremony proceedings. I do remember that section of students consisting mainly of honors students whose performance and grades were excellent compared to other students even though they more challenging courses. Because of how AP credits are weighed they also graduated with higher GPAs. Teachers constantly reminded us that graduating in the top ten percent alone could get us accepted into almost any in-state college or university we applied to. My AP/Honors teachers always encouraged us to go to college and I did wonder if students in the normal classes received the same encouragement.