New Insights – The Variety Of Roles An Adult Educator Plays
An adult educator has additional challenges when placed into the role of teaching adult students.
When teaching young students at the elementary or high school level, there is an assumption that each student has followed a set criteria that consistently and constantly takes them from one grade to another for a minimum of twelve to thirteen years. Within this twelve to thirteen year interval, they are constantly exposed to a “classroom” environment where not only have they developed a physical comfort level with familiar surroundings, but have already established study and homework habits early on. Last but not least; the majority of young students have a minimum level of external responsibilities that allows them to focus the majority of their attention to the educational demands within the elementary or high school institutions.
Unfortunately, these luxuries are not the same for adult learners and adult educators. The goal of this post is to address the variety of roles an adult educator must play to engage, guide and support adult learners through and to the end of their successful educational experience.
Role 1 – The Educator Multi-Tasker
The learning curve in your classroom is as individual as each adult student. The time in which adult students have physically been in a classroom setting ranges from last year to over twenty years ago. The different levels of past education is another concern an adult educator must take into account with adult learners. Some are high school graduates, other may have completed or had post educational experience or possibly, some of your adult learners may have only completed a level of high school education such as grade eight, ten or eleven. As an adult educator you must understand and successfully bring everyone to a comfort level as such that the educational experience doesn’t leave someone struggling and left behind the others students. Along with these concerns, you must also recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each adult student that may discourage him or her from completing assignments or course requirements. Some have english as a second language making it difficult to read through or complete written assignments and tests and others may have difficulty reading or understanding basic math applications.
The learning styles of each of your adult students is diverse as well. Some learn best through reading text books, some through the use of visual tools such as videos or power point presentations and others through interactive “hands on” practical methods. As an educator it’s best to take the time; making valuable observations and getting to know the effective teaching applications and methods that will work well for each of your adult students.
It’s up to you as an adult educator to be sympathetic to the individual learning needs of each of your adult students and work with them to provide a comfortable learning environment that provides continuous encouragement in the classroom. We want to encourage students to learn, improve their self-confidence so as to overcome their classroom fears and feel victory when they conquer past educational weaknesses or negative experiences. We want to prevent adult students from becoming discouraged, withdrawn, or frustrated as so much that they have no desire to complete the course requirements.
Role 2 – Goal Provider
Young students in the elementary or high school level usually do not question why they are learning and typically just follow instructions provided by a teacher. The same does not apply to adult learners. Adult learners need to know why they are learning about a specific topic and to what benefit does this learning provide them. Adult students are usually at a point in their lives where time is of the essence and everything they are required to learn must provide a goal, purpose or reason behind it. Does this learning provide possible improvement in one’s personal income? Does this education provide required government or provincial requirements or regulations for one to do their job? With every topic or course, adult students continue to ask, “what and why does this specific topic have to be learned?” and “how does it benefit me in the long run?”
These are just some of the questions your adult students will ask. It is up to you as an adult educator to provide the valid and valuable reasons behind the learning. Once an adult student understands the value and benefits of what they are learning, they will be encouraged to learn and become increasingly interested and engaged in the topic at hand.
Role 3 – Understanding and Inspirational Counsellor
Many adult learners have additional external demands and pressures that make it quite difficult for one juggle everything on their plate. Along with the demands in the classroom to attend, study or complete assignments, many adult students also have the additional responsibilities of jobs, paying bills, raising children or other personal commitments that can sometimes make them feel that they have taken too much on. As educators, we must be understanding and compassionate to each adult student’s personal dynamic. Of course, we must maintain a professional educator/learner relationship with our adult students and most definitely there are deadlines and expectations that we educators must establish pertaining to the course curriculum, expectations, assignment completion dates and test or exam dates. However, we need to maintain a level of understanding and compassion for the pressures adult students may have. Get to know your adult students, learn a little about their personal lives that will give you some perspective on the type of individuals they are and the external demands they juggle. Support them by verbally acknowledging how tough it can be to “do it all” and encourage them by helping to solidify effective studying habits; even offering additional educational support and resources if required. Implementing the use of group discussions and group assignments is another positive tool utilized in the adult classroom. This allows the students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their classmates and establish a comfort level within the classroom. A healthy supportive comrade established within your classroom between you and your students early on will develop into a mutually supportive team where everyone is inspired to cheer and root each other on to succeed.
Being an adult educator does require one to wear many “different hats” during the teaching process. Depending on the individual needs of your students, sometimes you are a teacher, sometimes you are a sounding board or sometimes you are a facilitator or counsellor. Your role may call on you to become creative or more flexible in the way the you teach so as to support your students in understanding the topic at hand. However, when you see your adult students succeed, when you see their confidence level grow or you bear witness to see them become victorious; overcoming past fears or learning weaknesses. The work is all worth it; the rewards are priceless.