Observations from the Front of the Classroom

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

I just returned from an academic conference in San Francisco.  On the last day of the conference, I presented a paper that addressed the fears of the Non-Traditional Student (NTS). Over the last year, many of these fears have been addressed in this blog. The paper was part of a panel entitled “Outreaching to the Non-Traditional Student.”  The other papers that were presented made some observations about the NTS once s/he was in the classroom.

One observation that was echoed throughout the panel was “organization.”  While the traditional students seemed just to stuff notes and such away in a notebook, the NTS had an organized system into which papers, notes and handouts were systematically stored away.

Another observation was the incorporation of life’s experiences into writing assignments and term papers.  Although the NTS might balk at writing assignments due to lack of practice (indeed, this is one of the fears that may delay the return of the NTS to college), when the task is finally undertaken, there are amazing results (at least from the point-of-view of the professors!).  There’s an old adage about writing that urges new writers to “write what you know.”  When the NTS connects her/his knowledge to a writing assignment, texts and topics that are compelling and thoughtful are produced.  The NTS has a wellspring of knowledge into which s/he can tap that perhaps, rather than being afraid of the prospect of writing papers, NTS can seize the opportunity to write about their lives and those facets of their lives that make them what they are today.

A graduate student from Texas did just that as she presented her paper.  She is a “Generation Xer,” meaning that she was born in the 1970s.  She offered up the primary concerns of the Gen Xer and suggested that the motivations to return to school were often financial and marketing-related.  She said that she is sometimes older than the professor.  When I restated that fear during my presentation, I looked over to her, and she said, “It’s so annoying.”

Another panel member listed the needs of the NTS upon entrance to the classroom.  High among these needs was to “be listened to.”  There should be, she argued, a place that gives the NTS a solid resource that is tailored to their unique needs.

Hopefully, this will be encouraging to you – a future or newly enrolled Non-Traditional Student.  Your efforts are being noticed and as are your skills, points-of-view, and those unique needs.


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