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Teaching Adults When You're Younger

While not specifically mentioned, I feel it's important to note the sensitivity required when teaching adults who are, in some cases, signficantly older than you.

I, personally, am 23 and an instructor, while many of my students are in their 30's and older. I find it very important to maintain a balance of equal respect when guiding my students through the course. They need to feel that you are trustworthy despite the fact you are so young, that you are knowledgeable in the field of study, and that your youth is a strength, not a potential weakness.

It is easy for your students to look down on you because of your lack of experience. I find as long as you treat them with the respect and dignity you expect to receive from them in turn, you are much better off.

Ultimately, I feel you want to avoid treating them as inferiors, but as equals, especially if you, yourself, went through the very program. The key word these modules used is "guide." You are a guide to the students, not necessarily an older, wizened dictator of the classroom. You want to share your common experiences.

Hi Matthew,
You have done a great job of outlining how an instructor needs to work with older learners. These learners can be great assets when used in sharing their life experiences in relation to the content being studied. I have found that their respect increases dramatically when they are given a role to play in the class which helps to motivate them as they engage in the class activities.

I am an instructor. I don't have many students who are younger than I am; however, there are some teachers on our staff who are very young. They have many students who are older than they are. We discussed the fact that this age difference sometimes results in some students showing lack of respect. This changes once the instructor shows the student that she/he has also been down the same road, and she/he can offer words of advice. Their experience and wisdom in the field will overtake their previous feelings toward that younger teacher. Mutual respect is always needed.

Hi Brenda,
Even though the instructors may be younger than the majority of their students they can earn and hold the respect of their students by being prepared and professional. You make a good point about how important respect is to teaching success.

I feel no matter what age you or your students are, the instuctor must always treat students with respect. I have many students much younger than me, as well as a handful of students older than me. I may have to explain things in a different way to older students then I would to a younger student, but always instruct with respect.

I am an instructor at a school where most of the students are roughly in my age bracket. I feel it is important to not only treat each student with respect but also to set the tone early on that you are the instructor and you are there to help and pass on your knowledge to them.

A lot of the time, when students begin to see you as a peer, they may try to test how far they can push you or how much they can get away with. It is important to treat all students -- older, younger, or the same age as you -- equally. Build a student/teacher relationship with mutual respect and understanding.

Hi Natalie,
Excellent point. As instructors we are not peers with our students. We are at a different level in our careers than they, even though they may be our age or older. The key is, as you mentioned, earning their respect. You can do that by dressing and acting the role of a professional educator. Once respect is earned then the course will progress forward and everyone will benefit from the relationship format that has been established.

I firmly agree with Ms. Hartsfield. Respect is an integral part of classroom instruction. In order to be able to earn everyone's respect, regardless of their age, the tone is set early on and slowly a respect is earned through students who feel your knowledge and desire to help them succeed.

I am a 23 year old instructor and most of my students are younger than me and sometimes I find challenges in keeping things balanced. They find it hard to respect me based off of age and Im still learning how to bridge the gap.

Hi Jessica,
This can be a challenge but by being well prepared and confident in your classroom approach you can earn the respect of your students no matter what their ages. For the more experienced students use their life experiences as examples. This way they will see that you respect the knowledge they have acquired in life but yet have something to offer them in the course or you wouldn't be the instructor.

Many of my students are older than me too. I've found that I'm able to to use this to bring out there passion, and they like seeing someone who is full of energy. Being respectful is the key.

Hi Tim,
Good point about respect. When respect is shown no matter the age or situation communication is enhanced and understanding expanded.

I have had issues with students older than me, I started teaching at 22 and I ran into many challenges. Now still only 27 I have found better ways for me to adapt and do preventative maintenance. I teach each student the same as I want to be treated but remind them that there here for my skill and knowledge not how old I am

Hi Erin,
Good way of establishing your control of the class and how the instruction is going to flow. This way the students will be focused on the content and expertise you are sharing and not your age. This is a sign of good instructor that knows how to manage a class of diverse students.

Matthew: By the time you read this you will have completed the course. But let me respond anyway. First I've been teaching college courses for 28 years. I started when I was in my late 20s. The first thing I had to do was communicate to my students that I knew more about the subject than they did. I'd engage them and make them feel that they were about to learn as much as I knew. By the end of the class we could discuss topics as "peers" and they appreciated that. But they did want to feel that, in the beginning, I was the expert. Good luck in your career. Jim V

Very well put Matt. I agree. The level of respect is very significant. The age does not need to be an issue because you as an instructor have earned the right to teach. Teaching older students as a young instructor shows that there are new and innovative ways to spread the knowledge. Also there are students who are not so keen on technology and updated software, so this helps that you are an instructor in the modern days with much to teach and offer the students.

Due to my abilities, I have been educating people since I was 21 (almost 32rs ago)
I am acknowledged as a maven in my field.
I made a lot of mistakes early on trying to 'force' education onto people who were, in many cases, set in their ways and often actively hostile to change in the workplace. (This was prior to ‘formal’ teaching in an educational establishment)
I found it is easier to teach people who have fewer preconceived ideas, no matter what age they are.

I am also youger then most of my students and feel that there need to be that balance of equal respect. So that they do feel that they are getting someone that dose not have the knowledge to teach them.

Yes there is a very fine line. As the instructor you have to set the tone. Most the students that I teach are in my age bracket (30's) and have been trying to test me. It has been a learnig process but I am getting there.

Hi Matthew,

Your choice of the word "guide" is a perfect example of setting a tone that you are there to help students through the process of learning vs. the "sage on the stage" approach to teaching. :) You sound like an excellent teacher!

It has been nice for me to have some sort of format built into the classroom where students can make contributions from their experiences and perspectives, regardless of their age. In this way, I get to hear from and learn new things from my students. The "older" students have the opportunity to really share experiences, wisdom and at the same learn new things from the younger generation in the classroom.


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