If you are a sophomore or junior, you may be in the position of trying to choose a major. This can be a challenge for those of you who aren’t completely sure what you want to do when you leave Durham. This may also be challenging to students who aren’t confident in their academics. The pressure to succeed and be the best at what you do can be overwhelming and the largest battle of them all may just be holding confidence in yourself.
Parents and teachers are notorious for telling young children that they can be anything they want to be. I know when I was in preschool, according to a home video, I wanted to be (and I quote) a “ballerina princess who helps sick puppies” (adorable, I know). And guess what? Everyone told me that was wonderful and I could do it. But that is the last time I heard those words.
My life has been a series of highly fortunate events. I have always lived in a nice neighborhood with a solid school system. I had access to every resource I needed to get into college and am lucky enough to have parents who can afford to send me to a university.
But this message isn’t about how great my resources have been. It isn’t about how wonderful many of my teachers have been, (because, don’t get me wrong, I have had many amazing teachers), and it isn’t about how my high school didn’t try to help their students succeed, because it does. It’s about how the public school system failed me and fails so many students and I’m hoping that some of you can relate to my story.
The earliest I can remember feeling less intelligent than everyone else was in second grade. There were two reading groups, and it was clear which was the more advanced group. They were the smart kids; there was no hiding it. And do you know how the teachers choose those groups? Test scores.
Second grade, and I already felt like I wasn’t able to be the smart kid. I had barelystarted school; I didn’t even have the chance to believe in myself. When I was in seventh grade, a test score labeled me again, but this time the consequences were more severe. It was a score that said I couldn’t handle an honors English course, an AP English course; it was a score that didn’t allow me access to those classes even after I begged my teachers to let me try.
By age 13, my school told me that I couldn’t handle an honors course. The test defined me, regardless of what I contributed during class, or what my teachers read from my papers. Regardless of what I wanted to work hard at, I was told “no.”
Standardized tests have been given to students all across the United States for decades. It’s understandable that these tests are the “easiest” way to assess a large number of students in the most efficient way possible, but that isn’t doing all students justice. Do we really want labeling a child’s ability to learn to be easy?
My parents are both public school teachers, and I can’t tell you the amount of respect I have for teachers. It is a job for very special people, for people with a kind heart and a calling. It’s unfortunate teachers can’t choose how their students should learn. However, teachers have to teach for a test. They don’t have an option. Teachers are victims of standardized testing as well. Their ability to teach is defined by how well their students do on these tests. Every day they teach their students how to pass an exam that will define them both.
The job I may have one day could possibly not exist yet. And I can tell you that jobs for the generation below us definitely don’t all exist yet. When are we going to be able to redefine the system?
From the day I was told I couldn’t be in “Honors English” as a seventh grader I thought I wasn’t smart. My confidence went down and I started answering fewer questions in class. My test anxiety got so bad that I was failing tests that I knew every answer to.
I’m one of the rare lucky ones. My mom is a huge advocate in the school system and long story short, got me into the honors course. But that didn’t give me my confidence back. It just made me feel like my mommy got me in, which is never really a good feeling.
However, it did give me the opportunity to prove myself. From seventh grade onward I would never again take a standard-level English course. Regardless of if I had to work harder, bring 20 drafts to my teachers or listen to a book on tape instead of reading it to fully understand Shakespearean language, I wasn’t going to let them win.
Now I’m a senior English/journalism major. If you told me I was going to be the executive editor at the school paper when I moved into Christensen, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second. I still struggle here and there (who doesn’t), but my professors were introduced to me with a clean slate, just like you.
When I started college, for the first time since I was 13 years old, I felt smart. I felt like I was worthy of being in the classes I was taking and that I was worthy of getting an A. My message to you, Wildcat, is not to be afraid to take a risk, especially when it comes to your education.  Now is the time to explore your interests, expand and challenge your mind.
For anyone who has a lost confidence in school, just remember that you hold the key to your own future. No test can tell you how far you can go in life. Only you can do that. So take the risk, you won’t regret it.
All the best,
Allison 
@missalliejean 

Executive Editor