By Brian Miller, Secondary Principal
Teachers enter the profession with a deep sense of purpose – a desire to make a positive impact on the lives of students. Often, this calling stems from their own positive experiences as students.
Are you one of those individuals? Do you yearn to relive the magic of learning and discovery in a high school classroom, just like when you experienced it yourself?
Perhaps you were inspired by your high school science classes, where the wonders of the world were unveiled before your eyes. Or maybe you had an English teacher who forever altered your way of thinking by introducing you to the power of literature.
As an educator, the curriculum you teach serves as the roadmap for the academic year – providing structure, clear objectives, and guidance on what and when to teach. It forms the foundation for state standardized tests and is designed around the essential knowledge and skills required for college readiness and success.
Effective teachers understand that their ultimate goal is to influence and shape young minds, while utilizing student-centered teaching methods that cater to individual needs.
Ultimately, the curriculum provided by your school and district leadership is the backbone of what you teach.
What Constitutes the High School Curriculum?
Put simply, the high school curriculum encompasses the knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire during their four years of high school. It encompasses the content and framework of educational disciplines deemed necessary for student learning by schools and districts. It serves as the guiding force for all teachers.
In high school, the curriculum is divided into two categories: core subjects and elective classes.
- Core subjects are obligatory for every high school student in the United States to obtain a general high school diploma. They form the foundation of the curriculum and are commonly referred to as general education courses.
- Elective classes, on the other hand, provide students with the freedom to choose based on their specific interests. Although these classes are still required for graduation, they offer students the opportunity to personalize their education. Examples of elective classes include yearbook, journalism, weight training, and many others.
Each subject taught in high school is designed to cover a specific set of knowledge and skills within a given year. The determination of what constitutes essential knowledge and skills is based on each state’s academic standards.
State academic standards primarily focus on the expected learning outcomes in core subjects such as reading, science, and mathematics. However, these standards often extend beyond these subjects to include areas like health and physical education. Academic standards are established at the state level rather than by the federal government and are evaluated at the beginning and end of each academic year to measure student growth.
If you are a newly hired teacher or are considering a career in education, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with your state’s teaching standards. This will give you a solid starting point in understanding what you will be expected to teach, especially if you plan to specialize in one of the five core subjects.
What Are the Five Core Subjects in a High School Curriculum?
The five core subjects that every high school student must study include English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and either health/physical education or a foreign language. These core subjects adhere to a well-structured sequential curriculum that aligns with state and national assessments. This ensures that there are no gaps in learning across grade levels and that students possess the necessary knowledge and skills for university upon high school graduation.
What Does the Core Curriculum Entail in High School?
The core curriculum always consists of the following five subjects: English, mathematics, science, history, and either a foreign language or health/physical education. However, there may be some variations in specific areas of each subject, depending on individual state and district requirements.
Additionally, basic computer literacy courses are commonly incorporated into the standard high school curriculum. Although these classes are typically required for graduation, they are not always considered core courses.
In essence, the answer to the question “what is core curriculum in high school?” is both straightforward and adaptable. While there may be minor variations from state to state or school to school, certain key components can be found in any standard U.S. high school curriculum:
- English: A four-year program covering American and World Literature, literary periods, poetry, research, and writing.
- Mathematics: A four-year program typically encompassing algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.
- Science: Three courses typically involving biology, chemistry, and physics.
- History: Three courses covering U.S. history, world history, and civics or government.
- Foreign Language: Two years of study (occasionally optional, depending on the state), based on demand and school resources.
- Physical Education/Health: A two-year program that can sometimes be substituted with approved after-school activities, subject to state or district approval.
- Computers: Two classes consisting of typing, Office programs, and even web design courses. The inclusion of computer classes in core curriculum is becoming increasingly common, and it is expected that more states will adopt this practice in the future.
As technology has become an integral part of our daily lives, basic computer literacy classes have become less necessary, as most students are already well-versed in this area. However, classes in coding, computer programming, and software development are likely to become as essential as math and reading in the coming years. As a result, high school curriculums are expected to adapt and reflect these changes.
What Other Subjects Can Be Found in a Typical High School Curriculum?
In addition to the core subjects, some high schools include arts, computer science, health, physical education, and world languages as part of their core offerings. In cases where these classes are not designated as core subjects, they are typically available as elective options. This is due to the fact that many universities require these subjects, necessitating their availability for college-bound students.
Beyond the core classes, schools often offer a diverse range of elective courses to cater to the needs and interests of students preparing for the 21st century job market.
Furthermore, many schools and districts now emphasize the importance of soft skills, digital citizenship, and social and emotional well-being in their curriculums. These aspects go beyond the traditional focus of high school subjects and are currently not tied to state assessments. However, it is likely that social, emotional, and behavioral learning will gain more prominence in the future. Even if your particular state does not mandate it, your school district may have specific requirements in this area.
If you aspire to be an exceptional teacher who maximizes student success, it is vital to have a thorough understanding of the curriculum. This knowledge serves as the foundation for your instructional planning and ensures that you are well-equipped to meet the needs of your students.
Remember, high school curriculums consist of core subjects and elective classes. Core subjects provide a solid educational foundation and are mandatory for all students, while elective classes offer flexibility and allow students to pursue their personal interests. By familiarizing yourself with the curriculum, you are setting yourself up for a successful teaching journey.