New School Year – Priorities

The new school year is upon us. I start tomorrow at my university. Believe me, while I love my job, I miss those days when my 4 were at home, we would get up, pray together, read the Bible, then a novel, and then slowly meander downstairs for math, Latin, and language arts. Enjoy those years. They will pass soon enough.

As you gear up for your school year, all excited with dreams of what is to come (some of which will come to fruition, some of which will not), keep your goals in mind.

The question is> Why are you doing this … as opposed to all the other options of schooling that are out there?

There are many answers to this question. And we will not all answer the question the same way, but whatever your answers are, those are your goals. DO NOT lose sight of them. They are the reason you hold out when that yellow school bus that zips by your house looks extremely enticing.

As a person on the other end of things (the college professor end) let me give you a few ideas for what most college professors are looking for in your kids — long term.

We love students who are well trained in the 3 Rs, who are responsible, who have good time management, who work hard, who are good team players. Also, students who know how to roll with the punches make for excellent college students.

I will briefly discuss each one below though chapters and chapters of blog posts could be written about each one.

3 Rs

Teach the 3 Rs. This is an old song with me, but honestly, if your student is not good in the 3 Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic) college is not going to be a good fit for him. Students should to finish great books like Dicken’s Oliver Twist, or Dumas’ Hunchback of Notre Dame. They not only should be capable of READING those works in the sense of reading a complicated sentence and understanding what it means. They should also have the perseverance to complete the book, no matter how long it is. Example: When Les Mis came out in movie form I had so many students laud this as one of the best movies ever. They loved the themes, the music, the message (I teach at a Christian college). Many of them bought the book, but most of them gave up on the book. “I just couldn’t get through it”, they said. “Just couldn’t”. They have the reading skills and even the vocabulary, but they do not have the patience to complete anything that requires endurance, such as a 1000 page book. YOUR STUDENTS NEED ENDURANCE!!! — Ditto for writing, your students should be able to express themselves well in writing, or they will not be able to convey to their professors (on exams and in papers) how well they have grasped the subject. The third content area is mathematics. The more solid and further your student can get in mathematics, the better off he will be in college. — While other subjects (science, history, etc) are important, the 3 Rs are indispensable, and if you are pressed for time, it is the 3 Rs you do not skimp on.


I have the privilege of working in the same place as the author of the recent book Responsibility Reborn: A Citizens Guide to the Next American Century by John Andrews. It is not a political book, though Andrews is a politician (and a Republican). It is a book about individual citizens knowing what responsibility is and how to take responsibility for themselves. Responsibility is a huge issue in college, and I think, a huge challenge for our current generation of young people, who have learned to make excuses for everything they do not excel in. I see this even in student jobs on campus. Students are often commended for nothing more than showing up on time, doing the work they are asked to do, and for being reliable, as if that is some thing special rather than just the minimum requirements for keeping a job. That is because so many students are not reliable, not on time, and some are even unwilling to do things that are boring or things they just don’t want to do. These students, while sweet and well meaning, are always ready to give an explanation for why they in a particular situation are deserving of special consideration instead of censure for something they failed to do, or some event they failed to show up at. It is so sad to see well-meaning young people without the ability to follow through and finish what they committed themselves to doing. Being reliable should not be that complicated of a task, but in an age of cell phones and last minute tasks, few students plan ahead, and with little or no planning ahead, they have no margin for mistakes or for a flat tire, or a bus that does not show up on time, and as a result, they become unreliable. —

What I tell my students every semester when I get a new class is that I will hear *no excuses*. If you did not do the work, it is really not very interesting for me to hear WHY it is that you did not complete the work. The fact is you didn’t, and that is what you need to deal with, so it does not happen again. The student needs to take responsibility for what he or she did not complete. They need to simply say, “*I* did not complete my work.” They should not add a ‘because’, even if the excuse is good or understandable. Their responsibility is their responsibility, and if they did not follow through (even if it is due to unforeseen circumstances) is due to their not building enough time margins into their lives to make room for the unforeseen. Students who learn to say that “It is my fault” stand head and shoulders above other college students, and are more likely to be extended some grace on occasion even if their papers were late.

Time Management

Which brings me to time management. I believe that students from the time they are old enough to play tee ball, are overscheduled, always squeezing in one more thing, and as a result, they live a harried existence flittering from thing to thing. In college, this results in last minute papers that are poorly written, or worse, elaborate excuses at the professor in hopes of an extension for the extension he gave last week. The result is poor grades, and really, poor skill sets learned in college. It is no wonder we have college grads, who cannot get jobs. They have no skills that employers want. — If you can do your homeschooled kids any favors, it is to set the example of managing your own time well (Little to NO overscheduling, just a quiet, calm existence where things of priority get done every day— 3 Rs), and then further you need to show your students how to manage THEIR time well on their own. This involves not putting things off to the last minute, as well as staying home from optional activities to complete that which IS a priority. — I cannot stress this one enough. Freshman year of college is so full of opportunities away from the books, it is sometimes a wonder that any of them finish the year with college credit.

Team Players/Rolling with the Punches
When I speak of homeschoolers sometimes not being team players, I sometimes offend homeschoolers (in spite of the fact that I was one myself). Most homeschool kids come to college with a sense of responsibility, with decent time management, with the 3 Rs, but in some cases their experience with other people is limited, and as a result their attitudes are sometimes rather intolerant towards persons with whom they do not have many shared values. — No, I am not trying to say that homeschoolers do not get socialized enough, and I am not saying that you should have put your kid in 1st grade to be ridiculed and peer pressured for 12 years. What I am saying is that some homeschoolers are very sheltered and almost ignorant of main stream America. They have their do and don’t list down pat. They even live up to that list and follow its rules rigorously. But … and you knew there would be a but … then they arrive in college (Christian or secular) and they find that other students (perhaps even fellow Christians) do not follow mom and dad’s rule list about what one does and does not say. Sometimes their exposure to people who operate very differently from their own family so limits their understanding and tolerance of other people that they struggle to find friends and to succeed and enjoy the inevitable group work that occurs in labs and literature classes in college. — No, there aren’t scores of homeschoolers like this, but the few that are BRAND homeschoolers as a group, and that can at times be the perception that students and also sometimes professors have of students who come from a homeschool background (says the author of this piece who currently has 3 kids in college)…. and who also teaches at a Christian University and does on occasion meet homeschoolers who live up to the rigid stereotype.

Make sure your students can function in groups with people they do not agree with, be that theologically, behaviorally, morally, politically. We can’t fix everyone in the world, especially not in a setting where that is not our calling (and college classes would fit that stereotype). Discussions around literature of ‘how we would deal with a person like this’ are fruitful… which is one of the many reasons that my students and I used to read Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy, Eliot, Hardy, and other great novelists aloud. What do you do as a girl when you are stalked by a Mr. Guppy (Dickens’ Bleak House) or when you are forced to sit in a group and work with a Uriah Heap (Dickens’ David Copperfield). What is the Christ-like way to not get sucked into their sphere of influence, while still being kind and independent?

Read and discuss… and expose your students to that odd uncle outcast on your Aunt Ethel’s side of the family. Meet the homeless down town, perhaps even visit a church whose theology you do not totally agree with. And talk to that obnoxious family member who voted for a candidate you would rather shoot than see in the White House. Ask him questions… not because you want to convert to his side, but because you are teaching your homeschool students polite group survival techniques for college and later for the workplace.

OK, that was a mouthful, and too much really to take in at once. But think about why you homeschool. What are your long term goals? How do you effect them?

[I know many of you homeschool for Christian character building and for spiritual reasons. I purposely did not have that discussion in this post, though that was part of my reason for homeschooling too.]

About Lene Jaqua

Co-author of Classical Writing books
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