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5 Tips from a Teacher of Adult Students

Recommendations from Andrea Leppert, M.A., of Rasmussen College

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Teaching adults can be very different from teaching children, or even students of traditional college age. Andrea Leppert, M.A., an adjunct instructor at Rasmussen College in Aurora/Naperville, IL, teaches speech communication to students seeking degrees. Many of her students are adults, and she's got five key recommendations for other teachers of adult students.

1. Treat Adult Students Like Adults, Not Kids

Student asking question by Steve McAlister Productions-The Image Bank-Getty Images
Student asking question by Steve McAlister Productions-The Image Bank-Getty Images

Adult students are more sophisticated, more experienced than younger students, and they should be treated like adults, Leppert says, not like teenagers or kids. Adult students benefit from respectful examples of how to use new skills in real life.

Many adult students have been out of the classroom for a long time. Leppert recommends establishing basic rules, or etiquette, in your classroom, like raising a hand to ask a question.

2. Be Prepared to Move Fast

Students in lab by DreamPictures-The Image Bank-Getty Images
DreamPictures-The Image Bank-Getty Images

Many adult students have jobs and families, and all of the responsibilities that come with jobs and families. Be prepared to move fast so you don't waste anyone's time, Leppert advises. She packs every class with information and useful activities. She also balances every other class with working time, or lab time, giving students an opportunity to do some of their homework in class.

"They're very busy," Leppert says, "and you're setting them up for failure if you expect them to be a traditional student."

3. Be Strictly Flexible

Student handing in paper by George Doyle-Stockbyte-Getty Images
George Doyle-Stockbyte-Getty Images

"Be strictly flexible," Leppert says. "It's a new combination of words, and it means to be diligent, yet understanding, of busy lives, illness, working late...basically "life" that gets in the way of learning."

Leppert builds a safety net into her classes, allowing two late assignments. She suggests teachers consider giving students two "late coupons" to use when other responsibilities take precedent over finishing assignments on time.

"A late coupon," she says, "helps you be flexible while still demanding excellent work."

4. Teach Creatively

Al Beck - I S-A page 2
Be Creative by Al Beck

"Creative teaching is by far the most useful tool I use to teach adult learners," Leppert says.

Every quarter or semester, the vibe in your classroom is sure to be different, with personalities ranging from chatty to serious. Leppert acclimates to the vibe of her classroom and uses students' personalities in her teaching.

"I pick activities that will entertain them, and I try new things I find on the Internet every quarter," she says. "Some turn out great, and some flop, but it keeps things interesting, which keeps attendance high and students interested."

She also partners highly motivated students with less-skilled students when assigning projects.

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5. Encourage Personal Growth

Student giving speech by LWA-The Image Bank-Getty Images
LWA-The Image Bank-Getty Images

Young students are encouraged to perform well on standardized tests compared to their peers. Adults, on the other hand, challenge themselves. Leppert's grading system includes personal growth in abilities and skills. "I compare the first speech to the last when I grade," she says. "I make notations for each student on how they are personally improving."

This helps build confidence, Leppert says, and gives students tangible suggestions for improvement. School is hard enough, she adds. Why not point out the positive!

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