Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thoughts On Class Rank From A High-Achieving BHS Student

As we move towards next week's School Committee Meeting and a final vote on the elimination of class rank, I want to share an essay from one of our BHS seniors.  As a school administrator for the past 15 years, I have seen the story shared below replayed annually (with different students). Thanks to the student for sharing this very personal essay with me and allowing me to post it on the blog (without crediting the author).
A Change In Perception
The pounding in my head would not rest. My mind was struggling to keep up with my racing thoughts: How much longer will this take me? Will I ever get to bed? It was 1:30 a.m. on a Friday morning and I still had not completed my homework. Sitting at the kitchen table with a stack of books and my laptop in front of me, I envied my sisters and my parents who had gone to bed hours ago. Hurry up and finish so you can get some sleep or else you won’t do well on your test tomorrow. Suddenly, my eyes became a reservoir of tears. I felt myself losing control of my emotions. As soon as I recognized my feelings of stress and fatigue, the well of tears in my eyes overflowed. I can’t do this anymore!
At the end of my freshman year of high school, letter grades were translated into numbers representing my grade point average (GPA) and class rank, both of which quickly became the basis to measure my success. “I want to have a GPA of at least 3.9 and to be ranked within the top ten of my class,” I told my mother. She raised her eyebrows, not expressing doubt in my ability to reach my goals, but instead acknowledging the challenge I had just set for myself.
A few weeks into my junior year, everyone’s GPA and class rank were updated. I glanced at the computer screen that displayed the numbers that meant the world to me, only to find myself disappointed. The screen read “Class Rank: 12.” I had not yet reached my goal. I was close, but close does not count. All of the late nights, all of the times I missed family and social events, quickly became worthless. I could not comprehend how I could work so hard and still not get what I wanted. The perceived lack of success was crushing me.
My perception was upended when I watched a screening of The Race to Nowhere hosted by my school. As I sat in my auditorium seat, I watched my own story being exposed. Student after student documented their trials of stress, burn-out, and depression, all resulting from academic competition amongst their peers and within themselves. I started to question myself and my goals: What is the purpose? What am I really trying to achieve? Over the next few weeks, my perspective started to evolve.  Turns out I was not setting goals at all.  I was setting expectations: events certain to occur.  When this did not happen, only disappointment followed.  I now appreciate that goals are defined results to strive towards.
With the ability to differentiate between goals and expectations, I now take time to recognize and celebrate my accomplishments.  I find myself happier and satisfied. I continue to set goals and dedicate full effort towards accomplishing them.  However, I realize that something less than one hundred percent achievement does not equate to failure.
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  2. When you rank students you limit opportunities. There can only be one #1 and half of the students are told they are in the bottom half. This isn't necessary. You honor some at the expense of most. Glad to hear you are waking up. Spread the word so other schools get it.

  3. What a powerfully insightful essay! It needs to be read by every high school student and parents of all ages. I believe every person deserves to be healthy, happy and successful. All of us in the education community are part of a student's success or failure. Since when is a C equal to an F?? Our grading system isn't A,B,F. Since when is average failure? We all need to work hard and be dedicated in order to be successful but we only live once and if we aren't happy and healthy to enjoy our successes in life ... it really isn't worth it.

  4. Great piece of writing by a student who represents quite a few of his classmates, I'm sure. Nothing wrong with motivation and drive, but only one student can be #1, and if there were no others, being #1 really would not mean much, would it?