by Marie Stout
Teaching high school to my young adults was not only challenging but thrilling. It was a wonderful opportunity to pour into their lives in the most formative years before leaving the nest. I had a multitude of reasons why I should do it. I just needed to get over my fears concerning the lack of what I knew. And what I didn’t know when I began, I knew by the time I was done!
What I Didn’t Know
My husband and I decided it was best for me to personally teach my high school students for several reasons. Along with teaching the spiritual disciplines, I wanted to make sure they had a quality high school education that I never really received.
My personal experience with high school was that it was a lot of fun. In the four years, I attended about 30 football games, planned and attended lots of parties, sat at different lunch tables, read about eight books, learned how to format an essay, learned to drive, graduated with a high GPA, and attended a major university. Much of my worldview was established based on the false equivalents of who was the prettiest, who was the trendiest, and who had the most friends. The first year at the university, I struggled as the professors in each of my general education classes referenced books that “they knew I had read in high school”. Frankly, I had never even heard of most of them. I’m sure if someone had asked me to read those books, I would have. I severely lacked study and research skills, and I certainly didn’t know what the Scientific Method was. My university experience made me reevaluate what my high school years really should have looked like, as I entered the job market and leaned heavily on my newly acquired skills.
With five children who found their extra-curricular interests in elementary and junior high, we chose to pursue those passions with any extra time they could afford once they were in high school. This made for a very busy household.
Two of my students played high school sports through a private school. Two chose speech and debate, where there were several weekends of traveling all over the country in the spring. One chose robotics, which not only required four days of tournaments on different weekends but a very intensive “build season”. My son would choose to work six to eight hours a day, seven days a week, building a robot for competition, from the first weekend in January until President’s Day weekend.
One of the advantages of homeschooling is that I could work around their “seasons”. For example, my robotics son really didn’t like English. We would start his lessons in literature, grammar, and writing in August. We would work five days a week until Christmas time, and then, during the robotics build season he would do one lesson of grammar a week and read one book in two months, and no essays until his season was over at the end of April.
Did I Know It All?
No! Fortunately, I taught my students from Kindergarten to Junior High, so I learned along with them. When they were ready for Algebra 2, so was I. The only high school subject I felt comfortable with was the five-unit course of American Government because I was a Political Science major in college and worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. before I had children.
The biggest limitations were having five students and not being able to keep up with my high school juniors and seniors in math because of time. I could get them through Trigonometry but needed more video-intensive programs for Calculus 1 and 2. Math and sciences were my weakest links, as I skated through high school and college without ever taking a Chemistry or Physics course. You can imagine my fear when I realized, in their early years, that I had very science-minded students.
Let’s Start with Science.
I knew that not knowing the scientific method really put me behind. So, I started in elementary school assigning a science fair project, entering our PSP’s Science Fair, and working directly as the scientific method stated. I was willing to go along with half-baked ideas, as long as they used the scientific method.
By the time they got to junior high, they knew the scientific method by memory and could do some pretty meaningful projects. But because science was not my forte and required a lot of set-up, I would find one mom with a student in the same grade and level as my high school student. We split up the chapters and took turns teaching each chapter’s labs. I did all of the reading with them so that I was learning the material as well, leaning heavily on the teacher’s manual. Then we’d meet once a week to do all of the labs.
Typically, other parents would see our science fair projects and they’d ask if they could join us the next year. So, we’d end up with three or four moms splitting up the labs. That made it all the more fun. What else are garages for?
I made sure to continue the reading with them so that I kept up with them. I mean, if I was asking my students to do chemistry and I thought they were ready, why shouldn’t I be? And yes, sometimes my students learned the concept before I did, like chemical solutions. My eldest ended up making me some tea in a beaker, some water with sugar in another beaker, and combining the solutions so that I understood the concept. And he felt proud that he could teach me as well as I could teach him.
Struggling with Math
Being a liberal arts mom, I also struggled with teaching math. I got up to pre-algebra just fine. But having never used a scientific calculator until Trig in college, I struggled with the algebra curriculum that used it as the norm. I ended up watching videos on how to use it with my students. I then decided the best course for us was to buy a curriculum that had teaching videos and robust solution manuals, with every step broken down. Our extra-curricular lifestyle didn’t lend itself easily to a math class taught by someone else, because we wanted the freedom to up and go when a fun opportunity called. My eldest did Calculus 1 and 2 and two of my other sons got up to Calculus 1. They all used videos, solutions manuals, and Khan Academy.
The 100 Books Every Student Should Read.
Remember my literature shortfalls when it came to college? I had read so few books in high school that were referenced in college. When it came time to teach my own students, I decided to research a good list of books. I noticed that the SAT prep book had a list of 100 books you should read before college. (Editor’s Note: Patrick Henry College published a similar list you can find here.)
I had two avid readers, two average readers, and one reluctant reader. My avid readers took on the book list and decided to do all 100. I thought it was reasonable for my reluctant reader to do one book a month.
What I found was that he didn’t mind reading the books. He just didn’t want to write a critique about the books. So, we read the books out loud. Yes, to my juniors and seniors in high school! We made diagrams on butcher paper on the wall, family trees on the whiteboard, lap books, etc. Finally, we’d discuss the literary elements.
I learned that my boys didn’t really like Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, so I introduced “movie night”. Twice a month, they’d watch a movie based on a classic book. Knowing that we were going to tackle about 50 books in four years, I figured this wouldn’t be all bad. We’d also try to find a Shakesperian play to go see, instead of reading a book every year. I mean, Shakespeare didn’t intend for people to read his scripts, but to see his plays.
With my last two students, I decided to see if we could start a high school book club. I’d propose the 10 books and email other moms with students the same age and ask if they wanted to get together to discuss the books like a book club. We ended up with five to eight other students coming to our house.
During the senior year of my youngest, the other mothers decided they didn’t want to miss out on the fun, so we each took turns leading the book discussions twice in the year. I still read every book with them. I just didn’t have to be so thoughtful as to ask questions about genre, foreshadowing, worldview, and protagonists. But since I had been teaching high school literature for 14 years at this point, I already knew the elements as I turned each page with my student.
Foreign Language was a Blessing.
I would say that I was about 50% proficient in Spanish when my eldest was a freshman, and I purchased a Spanish 1 book, figuring I could do about that much. And then I paired up with another parent, who was a little more proficient than I was, but willing to learn, like me, and we had a lot of fun teaching Spanish together.
I had five children and she had four, so we taught together for 11 years and I taught about seven years on my own. We invited other students on our journey, and we’d alternate which chapters we taught, all the way from Spanish 1 to Spanish 4. I was challenged by her to be creative in my lesson plans, and she was challenged by my lesson plans. Since we live in Southern California, each of our students typically had an opportunity to go with their church to Mexico for a day or a week to serve in orphanages, immigrant communities, home builds, breakfast clubs, and Christmas programs. My friend and I learned vocabulary of the Gospel, service, and building to pass on to our students. (As opposed to the orchestra recitals in the Spanish textbook.) We couldn’t go with every student on every trip, but we ended up in Mexico at least once a year, with real-life applications. The blessing of this was that we both finished our time of teaching Spanish way more fluently than we had begun!
History was always a part of our Language Arts and writing programs, so the reading and writing fit right in. Over the years, I used Sonlight, Beautiful Feet, or Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) curriculums which helped integrate our literature and history. When it came to writing papers, I let my students pick their topics, based on the history we were studying. Of course, I got the grossest and weirdest topics (like the Bubonic Plague and how it affected trade, and the Victories of the Mongolian Armies, etc.). I will note that I did a lot of research on different rubrics, so both my students and I knew what to expect for grades for different kinds of writing styles.
Interestingly enough, grades are a hot topic when it comes to high school transcripts. I made grade books for each subject on google docs and shared them with my students, with viewable properties only. Some of my subjects included points and some percentages. And some a mixture. There was always extra credit available, so if there were poor exams that needed to be made up, they could do extra assignments or a paper. My daughter would check hers weekly to make sure she was on track. Most of my boys would check it the week before the semester was done and then determine how much work they would need to do to get the grade they wanted, and the last week of the semester was really busy for them. Since they knew the expectations upfront, it took the pressure off of me and reduced the nagging.
This grading process came in handy for college transcripts. I knew my students and their hearts. I didn’t have to require everyone to take Physics and math beyond Algebra 2. And I figured if any college counselor wanted to see my grading scale, they could easily look at it. All five of my students attended four-year colleges or universities, all of them on large merit scholarships, and four of them finished with higher GPAs in college than in my homeschool. The jury is still out for number five, but I think he’ll make it! More importantly, they all love the Lord and are actively serving in their churches. (To date we have three engineers, one nurse and homeschool mom, and one planning to go into ministry.)
Know that teaching high school yourself means that you need to be willing to learn alongside your students. You need to be willing to set standards and stick to them. Finally, you need to be ready to lovingly correct them. But how glorious to develop these relationships with critical thinking, young adult students!