Three Things I Wish My Mentor Knew: Confessions of a Thirty-Something Student

I’m what you would call a “nontraditional student.” I’ve got two kids, I’m gainfully employed, and I’m 33. Getting my degree in education and a license to teach wasn’t my first choice of career. It was a dream that arose after countless hours of helping my sons with their homework and volunteering in their classrooms. This dream was left unrealized for years until the right opportunity presented itself, and I jumped on it. In this way, I’m not unique. 

According to US News, the number of adults choosing to go to college grew by more than fifty percent between 1991 and 2012, and that number is expected to rise. Adults are seeing the value in higher education, whether it is to change careers or advance their own. As a result, it’s safe to say that there will be a lot of professional fields growing, including the field of education. The great thing about this is that there will be a workforce full of people with prior experiences and life lessons that they can bring into the classroom. The problem with this happens when you step into a teaching program that was designed for younger students.

The program I chose offered practical knowledge, an understanding of teaching theory, and a chance to apply my learning as a student teacher. The college gave me assignments and tasks that are designed to help young professionals find their niche, and they helped me find a mentor to guide me during my practicum. All of these things were helpful, and I can imagine that they really make a difference for twenty-something-year-olds who are just getting a sense of what they’re into. However, for me, it was lacking. I wanted more. Now that I’m about to graduate, I can think of three things that I wish my school, and my mentor knew about teaching an adult learner.

  1. I can handle more than you think. I’ve been in the workforce for more than a decade. I’m used to multi-tasking, resolving conflicts, and time management. While there’s always room to learn more when it comes to these areas, I’m eager to feel what it’s like to run a classroom, and that means that I’ve got to get into the thick of planning, grading, and meeting with parents. If I feel overwhelmed, I’ll tell you, but please know that I can handle a lot more than you think.
  2. I want to dig deeper. Along with leadership, I spent some time studying psychology. The human mind fascinates me, and it thrills me to think that I get to help shape the minds of those in my classroom. Though it’s helpful to know what’s on the surface of educational theory, and I’m happy to learn it, I don’t want to spend too long there. Let’s talk motivation, differentiation, and the effects of play on the brain. When it comes to a curriculum for adult students, we want more than the basics.
  3. Feedback is a life source. The truth is, even with my previous experiences in the professional world, I’m nervous. This is new territory for me. I want to be thrown in, but I also know that I’m bound to make mistakes. I want you to tell me when I do. If I’ve learned anything from my previous jobs, it’s that you can’t get better unless you know what to improve on.

Of course, this list isn’t definitive. Other adult students may have more to add, but I’m confident that we all have these three things in common. In their instructions for teaching adult learners, The Northwest Center for Public Health confirms that adults want to dig deep, experience real teaching, and have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes along the way. If you’re a mentor teacher with a “non-traditional” student in your classroom, take some time to get to know their background and help them think of ways that they can apply that knowledge to make their classroom as unique as they are. Encourage them and talk to them about what they hope to get out of this experience. Their answers may surprise you.

Rebbekka Messenger holds a master's degree in teaching and works as a middle school/high school English teacher. However, before setting her sights on the world of education, she studied organizational leadership and found a lot of joy in helping start-up organizations get started and acquire funding. Rebbekka's work includes regular articles in LifeTree Family and the occasional review for Familyfans, though she also enjoys grant writing, and writing website and creative curriculum content.