nontraditional student

nontraditional student

Adult Students: College Instructors Love You!

Nervous about returning to school because you’re afraid that the instructors won’t welcome you? Well, think again. In my experience as a professor, most college instructors are delighted about having nontraditional students in their classes. Oh, there are exceptions, of course. (Some professors just don’t like anyone, unfortunately.) But here are some reasons why many instructors—myself included, back in the days when I taught—adore nontraditional students.

First of all, adult students appreciate their education. They’re working hard to balance work, kids, and whatever else is going on in their lives, and they wouldn’t be in college if they didn’t know it was worth their time. With so many undergrads around who see college as a burden, or who are only in college because it’s “what you do” after high school, it’s refreshing to have students around who are delighted to have the opportunity to get an education.

Second of all, adult students are respectful. When I started teaching in my early twenties. I feared that nontraditional students wouldn’t take me seriously because I was younger than them. Not so. Adult students respected me because they knew I had something to teach that would be useful for their careers and lives. They understood how much I work I put into my teaching, and because they were hardworking professionals themselves, they appreciated this.

Instructors also like nontraditional students because they don’t play games. They don’t have time. There’s nothing teachers hate more than students who try to do as little work as they can to get by, or who whine and try to bargain for points and special exceptions. Most adult students are way past this kind of nonsense, especially because they’ve been in the working world for awhile and know it doesn’t work.

Finally, professors who teach discussion-oriented classes love nontraditional students because they bring such a diversity of experiences to the table. Many traditional students appreciate this as well, and feel they can learn from those experiences.

So, if you’re going back to school, don’t worry about whether you’re going to be welcome. Sure, not everyone will be eager to have you around, but that’s true in every situation. Most college instructors will be delighted to see you in class the first day.



Are Professors Willing to Accommodate Students with Children?

Let’s face it—some professors and college instructors are more eager than others to help out the parents in their classrooms. Some professors are completely understanding when a student is late or absent because of a child’s needs. After all, many college teachers have children too, and even if they don’t, most of them have a clue about how real life works.

Unfortunately, some of your instructors really don’t get it. When I was a professor, I heard way too many of my colleagues whine about the “special accommodations” needed by a student with a sick child. And no, it wasn’t only men who had this attitude.

So what’s the best way to approach a classroom situation when you know you may be absent, late, or in need of some extra time for deadlines because of a child? One of the best things to do is to talk to the teacher. Instructors want to know that students are serious about their classes, so if a student demonstrates they are serious, a teacher is much more likely to allow reasonable accommodations. Say something like, “I’m really excited about this class and am a serious student. I wanted you to know that I’m the single parent of a four-year-old, and I may be a little late because I have to get her to preschool in the morning. I’ll try my very best to get here on time.”

This professional approach will go a long way—and if you’re professional and ask, you may just find that the instructor is more than willing to help you out.

In one case, I had a student who was often quite late to my early class because she had to take her son to school. I invited her to sit in on my later class when necessary, and that solved the problem. In a few cases, I invited students to bring their children to class on days when child care glitches occurred. While this was sometimes a minor distraction to the class (although most were delighted to have a cute little kid around), I felt it was important to demonstrate that children should not be seen as a burden, and that society needs to do what it can to accommodate parents.

So what happens if you encounter an unsympathetic teacher? First, try to have a friendly conversation, and reiterate that you are a serious student who needs just a bit of extra consideration. If your instructor is simply unreasonable, complain—either during or after the semester. Familiarize yourself with the grievance procedure in your school. You may not know it, but many schools have an office of equal opportunity and diversity that handles issues such as this one. Visit them and discuss your options. In addition, look for resources on campus for nontraditional students and parents. A network of people in a similar situation can help you navigate the system.

Remember, you’re not doing anything wrong. Going to school and being a parent at the same time is an accomplishment to be proud of, and any reasonable instructor will respect you for this. I know how much I respected my students with kids—both before and after I became a parent—and you’ll find that this attitude is not unusual.





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