In Defense of the Advanced Kids


I feel like this post needs several disclaimers and an extensive background section to prevent offending anyone or risking my job or something. So, here are a few disclaimers and a short background:

1. I think all kids deserve a quality education that maximizes their learning potential. 
2. I am not necessarily speaking about any one school, district, or situation. I understand that there are exceptions. Some places excel, some fall short, and some (most, probably) are somewhere in the middle.
3. I understand that every site has their own unique needs and that every district has their own unique budget.
4. I currently teach IB English to juniors (this is an international program that promotes a well-rounded education that can earn students college credit through the examination process; I graduated with the IB Diploma from high school). We are an open-access school, meaning any child that wants to take an advanced class, no matter their past performance, can.
5. I was a smart kid. I married a smart kid. I hope to raise a smart kid.
6. I'd say any of this to an administrator. 

I bet you see where this is going. If I wasn't such a wordy person that tends to get quite comfortable on her soapbox regarding such matters I'd end it now. Yeah, fat chance.

All across America, advanced kids are getting the shaft, on many different levels. Monetarily, millions of dollars are directed towards special education, the EL (English Learners) population, and those at risk. New curriculum is bought, resources procured, trainings executed, and special positions created for these subgroups. And rightfully so! Struggling students deserve a fair, fighting chance to learn what their at-grade-level and above-grade-level peers are. The student who doesn't know English is entitled to assistance. The student with a processing disorder deserves a caring individual that can patiently provide them with the scaffolding and modifications they need. The student who has been in a wheelchair their entire life should be able to pop wheelies on ramps and have no problem attending classes on the second story of a building. The student who is three years behind in math should have a place to go for extra tutoring with a highly-trained individual to help them.

But what about the student who does calculus in his sleep? The one who churns out essays with beautiful theses and carefully crafted syntax? The student that is a hop, skip and a jump away from curing cancer? What about these kids? 

If we go back to my first item in the disclaimer (aka "I promise Christine is a good person/teacher, please don't be mad at her" list) section, I, and most educators, believe that all students rightfully deserve to be taught challenging content that stretches their abilities- the good stuff that takes them to the next level. The above-grade-level kids deserve assistance too. Their programs need budgets and coordinators (at the site and district levels) and supplies. Just as it would not be right to ignore a struggling student, it is not right to ignore the advanced one. So often, beginning at the elementary level (dare I say especially at the elementary level, since "tracking" has become a dirty word), smart kids are welcomed into the classroom, seen as as "easy" or "good" students. They're typically given the standard assignments and then told to read, draw, or tutor other students when they're done early. They receive less of the teacher's time (unless they act out from being bored) and aren't frequently given specialized content. These kids are left hanging because they're already at grade level and easily understand new concepts. So, instead of challenging them to do better, they're left to plateau. When I taught fourth and fifth grade I have to admit I was sometimes guilty of this. When I was in third grade myself I'd get the week's work done by Tuesday or so for most of my subjects and then get to screw around for the rest of the time. I'd read, write stories, or, better yet, fake a stomachache so I could go home.  

This isn't about taking away from other subgroups. It's about adding to this one. 

As teachers, those who teach honors courses, whether AP, IB, GATE, or whatever other acronym applies, are typically seen as "lucky" or as "having the easy classes." I've taught at both ends of the spectrum, and the in-between. I've taught kids who refuse to work and call you a bitch as they walk out of class ("that's Mrs. Bitch, thankyouverymuch"). I've taught the advanced kids, as I do now, and I've taught the "regular" classes. And let me tell you, they all come with their own challenges. I don't have unmanageable behavior problems rwith these students, but I do more grading and prep work than I did with other courses. It's a trade off. 

Bottom line: teaching is hard.

I'm not calling for a radical shift, or even complete equity, if we're being realistic. I do challenge the education system to continue meeting the needs of all their students- including those of the more advanced. If we're going to promote rigor and grit, then by all means, let's push those that are willing to be pushed (and those that aren't... just push them all, for crap's sake). 


  1. I was an advanced kid. I actually grew up in the UK, and let me tell you that it is no different to the US. I was left plodding along, getting bored because I wasn't being challenged. But that was ok because I would get the high grades for the necessary work and the school didn't need me to do any better. I wasn't challenged and ended up skipping on college because I thought it would bore me. I went straight into a job which eventually brought me to the US. I do ok, now I know that I should have pursued college. I would be doing even better!

    Now I have an advanced kid, going to school in the US. She is 5th grade. Reading at a 7th-8th grade level, completing math assignments without really thinking about it. Writing fantastically! Again though, she keeps the average up for the school so why should they push her further. I see her getting bored though. When she was younger she loved helping out the other kids when she had finished her work, now not so much. She strives to be challenged. She NEEDS to be challenged. I worry that once she is in middle school next year that it will get worse, and she will follow the same path (and make the same mistakes I did).

    Thanks for sharing this - I appreciate reading a teachers opinion on something that has bothered me for many years.

  2. I agree with this!

    I was one of the advanced kids, but actually I think it was most catered to during elementary school, maybe because I had one teacher for the whole day, who say the big picture, and didn't have to stick with as much structure due to kids changing classes like in middle and high school? I remember being given different workbooks to do after finishing the main assignments, and there was a group for advanced math stuff.

    My high school didn't even have IB or AP classes, though - I had never even heard of them until college applications asked about it! I grew up in a fairly small town (one high school, 180 people in my graduating class). Fortunately math was my easiest subject, and based on how you were going into (or maybe after?) 7th grade, you could placed a year ahead or behind. But I did wish you could have been placed further ahead than that, I'm pretty sure I could have handled two years ahead, and finished calculus junior year.

    In other subjects, there weren't *any* options for advanced classes. I just always had a novel on hand to read when I was done with assignments. Oddly, I didn't regret this at the time at all - I enjoyed having free time to read my own things :) and honestly I'm a bit lazy. If I'd had the option, I'm sure I would have done AP classes and put the hard work in, and been better for it, but probably would have resented it at the time.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more! All kids deserve to be challenged. There's nothing wrong with needing extra help. If that's what helps them to be successful in life then it's worth it.

    I came from a really poor area. As a kid I understood that education was your only way out. Not just one way out the ONLY WAY OUT. I will say my particular grade school saw me as an easy kid because I was well ahead of everybody else. It wasn't until high school that I felt like I had missed out on opportunities to be challenged. My parents were encouraged to take me to a better school, have me test into it. Their attitude was "why bother she won't get in anyways". Nice eh?