Although honors teas recognize many students for their hard work in classes, the distribution of the awards is flawed, and they promote unnecessary competition among students.
In a typical year, each May, every academic department hosts an honors tea in which every teacher in the department selects approximately two to three students in each of their classes to attend a brief celebration that includes food and speeches relating to the department.
However, this year honors tea awards were presented in a virtual format: an email with an attached certificate.
Except for the English Honors Tea, for which participants are selected anonymously for individual pieces of writing (in a typical year), honors teas have no standardized criteria. Each teacher decides which students are invited to the tea.
Unlike departmental awards, where only a few students are recognized from the entire grade for their academic achievements in a particular field, a few students per class are invited to each honors tea. For the English department’s honors tea this spring, 194 students were recognized out of 735 students, more than a quarter of the student body. This high allocation percentage indicates that an invitation to the tea does not denote any particular achievement. It is not selective and therefore does not represent a special passion for a subject in a learning environment like Loomis Chaffee where so many students put tremendous effort into their classes.
For example, in a very high-level class such as CL Linear Algebra, all students in the class must have exceptional math skills to even take the class in the first place. They show a passion for and dedication to math by choosing to take the class, and likely will put forth great effort into their work. However, only a couple of students will be selected for the tea.
Although I certainly understand the desire for students excelling in a certain subject to attend interesting speeches or presentations by students and faculty, some of the most passionate students could likely miss out on the honors tea festivities.
Some may argue that honors teas promote classroom engagement and work ethic, but students already have a substantial motivation to challenge themselves intellectually and engage with the topics they study in class. Students are also motivated to work hard in class to maintain their grades. A certificate and chocolate-covered strawberries once a year is not what motivates students to learn.
Beyond the flawed allocation of honors tea awards, I have heard students discuss and speculate who would get each honors tea from their class. Even after the Honor teas occurred, people discussed who did not deserve it and speculated about favoritism in classes. This competition certainly does not promote a collaborative learning environment.
Perhaps some honors teas could be changed in format to have more anonymity like the English tea that recognizes individual pieces of writing. Or perhaps, honors teas could be more of a collaborative discussion within the department about a smaller group of students that have particularly stood out in that department, rather than three students from every class.
However, in their current state, honors teas provide little indication of outstanding academic performance and promote competition.