Teaching adult students has many benefits: they are motivated, know how to learn, know how they learn best, are socialized to the classroom already, and so forth.
One of the concerns, however, is that adult students, as with adults in general, often are parents. This has certain implications for the classroom that have to be addressed. A parent role takes precedence over a student role, and this has to be taken into consideration when teaching adult students. However, with flexibility and mentoring, students who are parents can also be successful students while maintaining their parent role.
5 Concerns with Students Who Are Parents
A major concern with students who are also parents is absenteeism. If a child is sick, or if childcare plans fall through, this will generally lead to the student’s absence from class. Sometimes multiple sessions are missed as well.
Lateness is also a concern with students who are parents. If a childcare worker is late arriving at the student’s home, the student will probably be late for class—this is also true if a child is running late at school or practice or other after school activity.
Lack of Focus
Students who are parents with a sick child at home, or child care issues such as a provider who did not come or must leave, can also be distracted when they do make it to class as they worry about their child’s situation.
Bringing Children to School
Sometimes students will be in a position of having to bring a child with them to class if there is an important lecture or test when their childcare plans fell through. This usually doesn’t present much of a problem, as the children are mostly not disruptive and sit quietly in the back with books or toys. However, sometimes concerns rise when the school has a strict policy not allowing children in the classroom or the rare instance when the child is disruptive and demanding.
Difficulty in Completing Work
Students who are parents might also have trouble completing work as their time at home and outside of class in general is very limited, taken up with caring for sometimes multiple children and holding a job.
There are many concerns in addressing the needs of students with children. However, there are also strategies for addressing these concerns.
6 Methods for Teaching Students Who Are Parents
A first and necessary step in addressing the needs of students who are parents is empathy. Most adults, worldwide and historically, who are not parents will someday be, so the concerns of students with children should be taken seriously even if they are sometimes brushed off as irrelevant, trivial, or “excuses.” Just as historically most people have children at some point in their adult life, most people have not gone back to school in their adult life with children—this is another reason to empathize with the student who has taken on what is still a relatively new role, that of the adult student with children.
Along with empathy, flexibility is also key. The traditional expectations that a student should spend two hours on out of class work for every one hour in class may be unrealistic with students who are parents. Strict adherence to an attendance policy and due dates may also be unrealistic. My general rule for everyone is that attendance and turning papers in on time is at the student’s discretion—an adult choice. Students are making significant time and financial sacrifices to be in class and are presumably taking it seriously, so I’ll just assume they have a good reason for lateness and won’t subtract points for late work. It is also on the student, however, to turn in quality work. And work that consistently comes in late from a student who is rarely in class often is poor quality work. I assist the student in not penalizing late work or absences, but they must also do their job in taking responsibility for their own attendance and work.
Offer students options to help them toward success: how to make up missed classes in the event of a child’s illness, how to address a group project the student had trouble participating in, alternatives in the event the student can’t finish the semester. Also important are ways to keep in touch with the instructor and the class in the event of missed classes. Some options for students might be an individual project, completing some work online, and taking an incomplete to finish the work another term as necessary.
Playing up Strengths
Students who are parents have leadership skills that can be used in the classroom. Assigning them the role of leader during group work, for example, or suggesting they mentor some of their peers, can play on this strength and help them in their academic careers.
More mature students also are goal-oriented and often work best individually toward those goals. Researching topics related to their goals can help the student in future career choices but also help them navigate the difficulties they may have setting up meeting times with other students.
Smaller, Short-Term Projects
Rather than one large semester-long group project, consider breaking the project down into several smaller ones. This is helpful to most students, not just students who are parents, for several reasons: the difficulty in maintaining focus on the project over the course of the semester, the difficulty in planning and visualizing the end project and the steps toward it, and the logistics of getting everyone together to meet multiple times. These problems are addressed with smaller projects which require less planning and meeting, and the goals are more concrete and achievable.
What are some strategies you use to assist students who are parents?
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