Veterans in the classroom, redux

December 13, 2012 at 12:42 am (Uncategorized) ()

This isn’t the easiest piece to get through due in part to its format. But it discusses quite a few issues that veterans returning to the classroom face, and I recommend it. It’s pitched mostly at admin but also has something for students and faculty.

Compound to Campus: Transitioning from the Military to Academia


Issues I can nod my head to in sympathy:

It can be really hard for a veteran coming back from active duty to feel comfortable in classroom situations organized around discussion and group projects. This is not, as the ignorant have sometimes assumed,[*] because veterans don’t know how to think for themselves, take initiative, or do anything without having a clear-cut set of directions in front of them or a set of direct orders.  It is because you are asking a 30+ year old sophomore who has been around the world and had some heavy responsibilities to consider 19-year-old classmates with comparatively little life experience as his or her peers. That’s not always a smooth adjustment.

Older returning students will understand some but not all of this. Older returning students will face some of the same prejudices and pressures: they have life and work experience, they are more mature, they have additional pressures and obligations related to family and career and finances, they will sometimes be mocked or looked down on (overtly or not) by other students, and they are sometimes assumed to be less intelligent. It can be difficult for an adult student facing serious problems at home or work to find the leftover energy to get deeply invested in a group powerpoint presentation or a discussion they see as abstract or self-indulgent or naive.  They will, at the same time, generally care a lot about the value of their education and their progress in class.  However, they are also fairly likely to speak up and voice their concerns to the professor, if only during office hours (though this is by no means true across the board, and adulthood is no guarantee that they will always voice these concerns constructively or in a way the professor or classmates appreciate).

Veteran students deal with all of this and more. The link outlines some of them; I’ve discussed others in other posts, and those are really only the tip of the iceberg. And every student is an individual — blanket statements fit veterans-as-a-group as poorly as they fit students-as-a-group. My first experience teaching a veteran student didn’t turn out so well, in fact; I can’t call it a teaching failure, exactly; the bottom line is that the student had other life priorities that were a lot more pressing than his intro-level English class for him at that time. He made a decision about his priorities and dropped the class. That happens, and sometimes it is for the best. Classes can be put off until later; children and spouses cannot.  But there were elements of his situation that were unique to his status as a veteran too, and there was not much institutional support for that kind of thing. It was a lot bigger than just one class. But it made me even more keenly aware of the issues veteran students were facing post-9/11.

Anyway, the linked article is worth a read as an intro to some of these issues.

[*] Yes, many people will assume that you as a veteran will not stack up to the other students in the intelligence department. The assumptions and resulting subtle but quite important dynamics are a source of stress, even when one is not able to quite put his or her finger on where that feeling or stress is coming from.


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