My son and I were discussing what electives he should take during his sophomore year of high school when his older sister walked into the room. A college junior, she was home for spring break; we asked if she wanted to weigh in since she had attended the same high school. She was excited to offer input and listened attentively as her brother rattled off the classes he was considering.
Her first reaction to his choices was confusion. “I had no idea the school even offered those classes,” she said, “Sports literature or global securities both sound interesting. And I never took Business Econ, but I bet it would be beneficial.”
I wasn’t surprised my daughter hadn’t taken any of the classes her brother mentioned; they are very different students. Both are conscientious and hard-working, they have good attendance, listen to their teachers, and complete assignments on a timely basis.
But my daughter was always an honors student. When she was little, she absolutely loved school and came home effusive each afternoon, discussing what they learned that day. Getting A’s throughout elementary and middle school was relatively easy for her, and she loved showing us her report card each quarter.
In high school, though, I noticed a change in her attitude toward school. She became ultra-competitive (with herself, mostly) and got very discouraged when, on rare occasions, she dipped below the high bar she internally strived for in terms of academics. I implored her to relax, go to bed earlier, and take more study breaks. But she insisted I “just didn’t understand” (as I’m sure many teens tell their parents), and that she truly needed to study late into the night.
Throughout high school, it was common for me to walk past my daughter’s room in the mornings and find her asleep with her laptop, test notes boldly screaming at her from the bright screen. She wasn’t a straight-A student, but she was pretty darn close — and on those rare occasions she wasn’t, she got distraught.
In contrast, my son is far from a straight-A, or even Honors, student. As a freshman in high school, he took all of his classes at the standard, not accelerated, levels. His classes were taught at a speed that worked for him — challenging, but not so fast that he felt he could not keep up. He liked some of his core required classes more than others, and he thoroughly enjoyed all of the elective courses he selected.
My son does his homework, and he studies for his exams. The rigor of his course load is less intense than his sister’s, so he can complete his assignments within an hour or two and has never studied into the middle of the night. Even when he has an exam, he manages to go to bed at a reasonable hour. His work ethic is not as intense as his sister’s — but honestly, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. He seems far less stressed out than she was, and he rarely worries that he didn’t work hard enough.
Teachers tell me my son “participates in discussions,” “completes assignments on time,” and “is a pleasure to have in class.” Although not quantitative measures, these comments confirm that he is a successful student. His academic efforts are not lost on his teachers, regardless of his what he scores on an exam.
That said, grades are important to my son, even if he is not an honors student. He tries hard and is thrilled when he aces an exam or term paper. An “A” may mean even more to him than it did to his sister because it happens less often. If he does get an especially bad grade, he’s frustrated, but he doesn’t let one incident of less-than-stellar performance define him, his worth, or his capabilities. Instead, he focusses on studying more for the next exam or remembering to ask his teacher for help with concepts he’s struggling to understand.
I’m not surprised my daughter hadn’t taken any of the classes her brother mentioned recently; I mean, “sports literature”?! Her goal in high school was to choose electives that would boost her GPA and illustrate her academic rigor in a way that top-tier colleges could see. Of course, the down side of this approach was that it resulted in her taking many classes she wasn’t very interested in. My son, on the other hand, is less concerned about courses that “look good” and instead sees his electives as an opportunity to learn something cool and exciting; he chooses subjects he genuinely wants to learn about, regardless of their appearance.
Yes, my daughter has higher grades, but my son has maintained an intellectual curiosity and a love of learning that my daughter, sadly, lost along the way. The older she got, the less she came home excited about discussing about what she learned. Instead, dinner became a rushed meal where she asked to be excused quickly so she could begin her mounds of homework and test prep. My son, on the other hand, still enjoys eating dinner as a family and leisurely sharing stories about his subjects, his teachers, and what they talked about in class discussions.
My son doesn’t get all A’s, but he retains information well, is insightful, and makes excellent observations.
Nevertheless, some may think that my daughter is the “better student.” But I wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, she is an honor student and he is not. But both are wonderful students in their own ways.