OPINION: Academic expectations stress students

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By Angie Escalante

The system of putting certain students on pedestals while indirectly shaming others pits them against each other and is harmful.

Placing K-12 students in higher level courses is not really a “gift” at all–it’s a nightmare.

Education programs like the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE), Advanced Placement Program (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) are forced on students.

I grew up as a GATE, honors, AP and IB kid.

Being outcasted from fellow classmates because the school deemed me “intelligent” above the rest didn’t work in my favor, especially not for my young, developing mind.

I was pushed to do more. The teachers said that the curriculum they were teaching to our grade was too easy for me and I was placed in higher levels, separately.

I, along with a few other students in my elementary school were pulled out of class and into a separate classroom to learn something different. We sat on one side of the classroom and the teacher took turns teaching two different lessons to cater to us and everyone else. We were taken out of our grade level and placed into the grade above.

More often than not, I sat in the library or in classrooms during recess because my other classmates didn’t want to play with the “teacher’s pet.”

I was quickly characterized as, “smart,” “gifted” and a “nerd.”

Suddenly they weren’t just words. They were labels and they were tied to my identity.

It was overwhelming when people would without question describe me by those words.

I should’ve noticed it was too much when I received a “B” letter grade on a test—the result of not studying because my uncle had passed away—and sobbed more over the fact that I let myself slip. My peers grew resentful toward me due to constant comparison and idolization I received from teachers and parents.

These were all indicators that it was all too much.

Learning felt forced and it was no longer something I loved. When I sacrificed basic human necessities like eating, sleeping and social interaction in favor of schoolwork, I should’ve been offered help over high demand classes.

While I experienced panic attacks along with auditory and visual hallucinations, my teachers were only concerned about my grades.

I didn’t realize what all the added pressure of being an avid student did to me until it was too late.

I wondered who I was my freshman year as I sat in my high school’s office waiting for the final signature required on my straight “F” report card to officially be dropped.

I didn’t recognize the person who opened a book but struggled to read the first sentence. 

I didn’t know who the person locked away in her room was because, “Angie was going to do great things, Angie was going to graduate top of her class and Angie was going to get into top schools. Angie was gifted.”

I remember taking many extra classes, all the summers I spent studying and all the tutoring sessions I had to attend just to get back on track to graduate.

No top school was going to accept me considering how my high school journey turned out.

I still applied because I could not fathom that I had truly lost that part of me.

When I opened the rejection letters, I broke.

Every teacher I had made it seem like I was invincible. I had nothing to worry about because I was smart.

Not a single one of them prepared me for the possibility that perhaps I wasn’t invincible, that maybe I would reach a breaking point.

 I did reach that point and there was nothing for me to grasp onto as I fell.

I was good at school but the school should not have taken advantage of that.

Schools, especially elementary grade, are supposed to nurture students. Teachers are supposed to help them grow, not force them. School should not have felt like a job for an 8-year-old. I should not have felt smothered by everyone’s expectations.

There is unrecognized sabotage behind the supposed opportunity to be educated at a higher level.

This doesn’t only apply to “gifted” kids who attach their worth to the letter on their test but also for the other kids who will lose motivation to even attempt something because they’ll never compare.

“If I’m not good at school, I’m not good at anything,” was something that was slowly hammered into my brain and it wasn’t fair.

I am more than my schoolwork.

Being smart is not my only quality.

It’s unfortunate I had to completely shatter before I figured that out.

Schools need to stop pressuring kids and I hope the new generation of “gifted,” kids don’t lose themselves before noticing it was all too much.

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