I look with envy at my peers in the math department.
Sure, I know they have the same issues I have as an English teacher: kids who don't turn work in; hours of planning, prep, and grading to do; a state standardized test looming over our heads.
But, there's one thing they have that I really want.
You probably won't find many Algebra II students who cannot do basic work with monomials and reverse order of operations. In Geometry, the kids are all likely equally confounded at first by the mysteries of Pythagorus. In Algebra I, more often than not I think the kids at least have basic number sense.
Or, perhaps it is better put this way...
In that Algebra I class, there's probably not a kid sitting there running advanced differential equations through his head while everyone else solves for x. If that kid were spotted, you better believe that his teacher would bump him up to somewhere that he could be both more challenged and better served.
But in an English 9 class, just because their birthdays fell within a given year, a kid who can immediately spot the nuances in Scout's narration in To Kill a Mockingbird and by the end articulate how the novel is a coming-of-age tale about the collapse of childhood illusions is sitting next to a kid who still thinks Scout is a boy and Atticus is African-American.
The prevailing paradigm in the Language Arts (and in most cases History and Science as well) is that if is kid is a certain age, they are to be seated in a classroom only with students of that same age.
That's why I have a freshman who I just assessed to have a grade 3 reading level sitting next to a child who consumes college-level texts with the voracity and hunger of a would-be literature professor.
Brilliant! you'd say. Well done pairing those two! The mere presence of the stronger student will elevate the weaker one, and all will succeed! Hurrah!
Except that in order to keep the wheels from falling off in that class, I have to aim to the middle and end up underserving either end. Student #1 has an effortless A and Student #2 can barely muster a D with all her might.
Why cannot the Language Arts follow a more leveled sequence of courses, akin to mathematics, in a high school? Why cannot all the kids ready to tackle rhetorical analysis do so at the same time, rather than wait until they're "of a certain age." I'm getting ready to teach the argument structure of Toulmin and basic Aristotelean rhetoric to my sophomores, and I keep finding myself having to consider those kids who still lack the cognitive development to discern author's purpose in even basic texts. To expect them to be able to not only discern this in real-world arguments but also be able to break down claims, warrants, rhetorical fallacies...that's just cruel. But, wouldn't it also be cruel to deprive this experience and teaching from those kids who are ready for it--even at age 15--and who populate that room as well?
And to me, honors or Pre-AP is not enough. A kid who can do advanced mathematics at age 15 is not simply placed in "Honors Algebra I." They are placed--at least in my building and in others I know of--where their skills will be stretched and they will grow as learners, regardless of their year of birth.
Am I wrong?