What To Do When Your Professor Is Younger Than You

Not only are nontraditional college students typically older than their peers, they're often older than their professors as well. It may be hard for some students with a lot of life experience to take younger instructors seriously. Find five suggestions nontraditional students can benefit from while interacting with a younger instructor.

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By Douglas Fehlen

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1. Demonstrate basic respect.

First and foremost, it's important to be respectful toward all faculty members at an institution. Professors deserve respect for investing time and dedication to course subject matter. Students for whom showing respect is difficult should need only remember that professors are in charge of grades. Any outward disapproval or belligerence in a course could affect grading. Students are attending college to succeed, and they should not let personal feelings or a negative attitude toward a professor undermine those efforts.

2. Learn more about a professor's work.

Part of showing respect is conceding that professors know more about course material than do students. After all, a professor had to demonstrate sufficient mastery of a subject to be offered a position in higher education. Students can learn more about professors' expertise by researching instructors online and finding any works they've authored in the bookstore or library. Knowing more about a professor's professional accomplishments can help students understand where instructors are coming from.

3. Work hard to connect with professors.

Nontraditional students are typically more serious about college than their younger peers. They're often more engaged with the coursework and often actively participate in class. This active participation is a great start toward building a strong connection with instructors. Students can also take advantage of office hours held by professors. This environment is ideal for discussing any issues individuals may be running into with coursework. A personal connection can also lead to networking opportunities and letters of recommendation.

4. Take advantage of strengths.

Nontraditional students are typically more mature than their peers and realize that they can learn a lot from others in higher ed settings - especially professors. They also can recognize they have experience to share with instructors and other students. Sharing life experiences and real-world insights can make students strong contributors in class settings. Nontraditional students should remember, though, that referencing this expertise to refute a professor during class may be perceived as a threat to a professor's authority. Instead, address any disagreements you might have in private one-on-one settings.

5. Take initiative and stay positive.

Being a nontraditional student in college can be difficult, especially if individuals feel unrepresented or unheard in the classroom. Having a younger professor can heighten these feelings of alienation. It's important for students to remember that a professor is not intentionally marginalizing them, and that they can take the initiative to be more involved in class. Maintaining a positive attitude and approaching the situation without ageist bias will improve students' experience in the course.

Feeling ill prepared for a return to college? Get ten tips for nontraditional students returning to school.

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