At lunch with my colleagues a couple of days ago, I started to get up on my soapbox about something: Kids are not teaching tools.
What triggered this was a discussion about the number of honors sophomore biology sections for next year. For the last 8 years or so, we have run either 2 or 3 (based on what students sign up for). Next year, there are 4.
Why the big deal? It's because honors' classes are typically filled with "nice kids." Yes, a lot of them are bright, too, but we don't have any "gates" on honors' classes. Any kid, regardless of his/her course history or grades, can sign up for an honors class. I end up with students with IEPs, 504 plans, ESL students, and all sorts of variations in between. It's true that you would find fewer of those students in an honors class vs. regular class, but it isn't as if all honors' students are the cream of the crop.
Teachers of regular biology courses tend to feel that their classes would be "nicer" if fewer students were enrolled in an honors class. They believe their ratio of kids who do their homework, pay rapt attention, and who can read a set of lab instructions would increase...and therefore, their teaching day would be better. These teachers never provide a reason why it would be in the best interests of the student to take regular bio vs. honors bio.
I'm sorry, but kids are not teaching tools. Kids should not be placed in your class in order to make your day better. That's not why they're there. It's not that I don't understand a teacher's frustration with a difficult class and/or challenging students. I've had my share of those---and I have to tell you, most of them involved honors' students or classes.
Will we have 4 sections of sophomore honors biology at our school next year? I think we will. For one thing, the incoming class is significantly larger than previous classes. We would have to have more sections of science as is. (Our department currently has 5.8 science teachers and next year, we will need 6.3.) The administration is also not wild about the idea of offering fewer sections than kids have asked to enroll in. How do you decide which kids don't get the class---especially when there are no entry requirements? Who is going to call a parent and say, "You're kid can't take honors because Mr. X wants a nicer classroom environment."?
The other part of this is that I'm trying to disengage myself from my department, as I will only be teaching one class there next year. Honors biology will no longer be part of my world, and so I must leave others to make those decisions. I didn't do the whole soapbox routine at lunch the other day. I'm hopeful that my colleagues will come to their own realizations about the prospective "purpose" of kids in our classrooms...and that whatever that may be, it does not include the concept that kids are teaching tools. They aren't.