What if Your Student is Older Than You?
I can still remember Janet’s first day. She simply didn’t fit in. She was a recently retired, well-educated woman who decided at the age of 63 to enroll in cosmetology school. The other students around her automatically seized her up as a “cranky old lady.”
What do you when your student is older than you? For an educator, this is an increasing trend that you’ll have to face year after year. Enrollment of students 25 years or older increased 42 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Educators get scared when they walk in the door and see a new student who is older than their own mother or father.
Here are some things you have to remember:
■ They know they’re older. They knew it before they enrolled; they knew it before they drove to school; they knew it before you walked in the door.
■ Don’t assume they’re a know-it-all. They’re sitting in your classroom because they have already come to grips with the fact that they need to learn something.
■ They’re scared. They haven’t been in school in a while, so they’re already terrified you’re going to bring out something new and techno savvy that they can’t keep up with.
■ Age has nothing to do with the ability to learn. No matter how old someone is—you can teach them something!
■ They’re more “ready” than the majority of your other students. You don’t get up and decide at 50+ you want to give college a try. You do that at 18. Older students have prepared themselves, have clear, defined goals and are ready to jump in and be successful.
What you can do:
■ Learn their story. Many of Janet’s friends and family were in a nursing home and all she wanted to do was get licensed so she could pamper the residents. Once you know their reason for being there, you can constantly use this goal to help motivate and encourage them.
■ Make them feel comfortable. Avoid offensive terms like “seasoned” or “older” when referring to them in your classroom. Whatever you do, put yourself in their shoes and don’t ever let them feel like they don’t belong.
■ Make them your helper. Older students are caregivers by nature. From making copies to putting notes on the board, find little ways to involve them in your class where they feel important and like they have purpose.
■ Earn their respect. Be as subtle as possible. When you’re trying to involve them, don’t say, “Would you like to be my helper today?” Try, “If you have a minute can you help me?” This, in time, will help you earn their respect.
When Janet graduated, she hadn’t just changed my perception of older students—she changed everyone’s. She received a standing ovation on graduation day from her fellow classmates. Having a student who is older than you can be quite intimidating, but remember your main purpose—to prepare each student for their future. Age really is just a number. Don’t ever underestimate the power of an educator!