A Teacher’s Plea for Course Selection: Don’t Just Sign the Form


The end of January is the middle and high school course enrollment window for many area public schools. A form comes home with all the recommendations for the next year and you sign off on it for what classes your child will take next year.

I urge you: don’t just sign the form.

Look at each course. Talk about each course with your child. Consider the whole picture.

When teachers make course recommendations, it is their task to make the recommendation for their specific subject. For me as a physics teacher, that usually involved looking at performance in my class (grades, aptitude, work ethic), what math class the student was taking (as certain sciences require more math), and the general interests of the students (life science vs. physical science).

The workload of the other classes the student is being recommended for isn’t taken into account. It is not taken into account if the student works an afternoon job or plays three sports. What isn’t taken into account, is life.

As teachers, it is our job to offer as many possibilities to our students that are an appropriate fit.

As parents, it is our job to discern what offerings fit in the bigger picture of our child’s life. 

I do a lot of tutoring one-on-one with high school students as well as lead a small group for juniors and seniors at our church. I get to have a lot of conversations with them about classes and workload and life. I am continuously dismayed at the amount of pressure the students feel. 

Last spring I served on a high school instruction planning committee of our county. When I had to reschedule with one of my tutoring students to attend a meeting, she said, “It’s ok. But please tell them how bad it is.” Many of the students I work with stay up routinely until 2am doing homework and fall asleep with cheeks wet with tears from stress.

We are redefining what is normal for the whole next generation, and not for the better.

Part of the problem is the schools’ mindset on courses. 

When I taught, we were told every year that if a student was close to the line to “recommend up.” The immediate logic is here good – open up more opportunities for students and if we set the bar high, they will achieve high. But the long-term effects are proving unsustainable. 

As more students have been “recommended up,” it has changed the course offerings both on paper and in practice. Some courses don’t have honors as an option anymore – just AP or college-prep. So students who would be a comfortable fit for an honors class are stretching up to an AP class. The problem becomes where they are stretching to 4 or 5 classes and they soon find themselves unable to keep their head above water.

Part of the problem is our best intentions for our kids.

We want what is best for our kids. We want all the opportunities for them. We know that academic success opens doors. But it is easy to become myopic and lose sight of the whole picture of who our child is

All students should have classes that challenge them. They should also have enough margin for sports or being in the play. For working a part-time job or spending an afternoon with friends. We have to help them learn what a healthy life balance is – from our example and from the healthy boundaries we construct for them.

As a teacher and as a mom, school is of the utmost importance in our house.

But I have to set my kids up for more than just academic success, which sometimes means taking a step back.

Any of my former students can tell you that my class was hard – many wrote me after graduation telling me that my high school class covered more physics than their college class. But I always tried to find the line between challenging and consuming – between thriving and surviving.

I urge you to find that balance for your child’s course selection next year – what will be challenging but not consuming so that they can thrive, not just survive.

Choose courses that your child is passionate about. Choose courses that challenge them. But above all look at the whole picture when you select classes and choose what is best for your child as a person.