Filler Classes Have Potential

by Anika Mittu ‘19

Many academic electives are appealing to students for one of two reasons. Some students may be genuinely interested in taking courses that differ from required courses or APs. But, for the majority of Sherwood students, they are simply filler courses–ones that they take with the expectation that minimal effort will earn them an A.

This is unfortunate, because these classes have real potential to teach students about niche subjects before they take college courses. For example, students interested in becoming a veterinarian may benefit greatly from taking Wildlife Biology. Despite the opportunity for these classes to serve as valuable and engaging experiences for students, academic electives often have a reputation for asking little of students both in and out of class.

There are two sides to this story: many students believe that these classes will come with minimal work outside of class and easy content. But, the reputation these courses have for a lenient and nonchalant 47 minutes comes from class culture–which is initially set by teachers. If teachers decide to make a class easy, offering little to no homework and laidback class periods, word will spread. Students will tell their friends. Some of these same friends will feel motivated to take the class, attracted to the promise of minimal work. If teachers try to change class culture once the class has a reputation for being “easy,” it will be too late. Students will feel unmotivated to work, especially in a class where they once believed that little effort would be more than enough.

Teachers must keep the course easy if they want students to keep signing up for the class. Students can get away with the bare minimum, earning A’s in a school district that is already getting a reputation for grade inflation. And all the while, word continues to spread that the class is easy, inviting even more unmotivated students to take the class in coming years and making it difficult for teachers to raise class expectations.

Some teachers may actually not want to change class culture to attract solely hardworking, driven students because it comes with the risk that enrollment will plummet. But, if these electives can develop a culture of real learning in a relaxed atmosphere, students still will sign up. Perhaps this means no homework outside of class, but an engaging 47 minutes in class. Or, maybe it means lesson plans that relate to the real world and get students excited to walk into class everyday. Either way, it is possible for students to be motivated in class without feeling overwhelmed by the workload. Once this class culture exists, real learning about niche topics can begin.