What can Professors Do to Help Ensure Veterans’ Success in the Classroom?

With troops returning home from Iraq and Aghanistan, along with other military actions, there is a strong presence of veteran students on college campuses today. Veterans face issues that are unique to them. As a whole, they often have higher unemployment. They also experience issues in transitioning between military and civilian life. In fact, some of these circumstances are what send them on the path of higher education. While, military personnel are all unique (they come from different branches of service and have held various roles), as college students, they do often share some of the same hurdles and situations. Here are some suggestions for how professors can help ensure veterans’ success in the classroom.

Understand Their Culture

Those who have served in the military all have the similar experience of living and working within a very regimented culture that thrives on structure. The culture and lifestyle of a veteran is so ingrained that it can be difficult to transition smoothly into a life that lacks such structure and routine. In addition, the military focuses on group identity, rather than on personal autonomy, and the lack of close peers on whom to depend can be disorienting. Many times this means that the campus environment is often quite isolating for veterans.

Their military experience may lead veterans to perceive a difference between themselves and their peers. It’s often difficult to relate to traditional-aged students who do not, for example, possess the same respect for authority many veteran students do. Professors can help alleviate some of these students’ isolation by including group work in class, allowing individuals to learn from each other and contribute to a shared goal. In addition, it’s important to be sensitive when discussing topics such as war or military conflict in class, as veterans sometimes feel there is a bias against them.

Consider Their Learning Styles

In the military, students were taught in very specific ways. There were real-world applications to their learning, and they were often assessed on their knowledge. Veterans are experienced learners. However, their learning has been dependent upon structure and very clear expectations, with a great respect for authority. They may have trouble adapting to assignments that emphasize critical thinking or creativity. Veterans are even used to a certain type of writing that makes academic writing sometimes confusing. In the military, writing is very brief and to the point. Sentences are shorter, with more straight-forward wording. Thus, instructors may find their written assignments to be rather choppy or stilted.

Make Strategic Accommodations

With a basic understanding of some of the issues veterans returning to higher education face, instructors can make a strategic effort to help these students overcome obstacles. Having a discussion with individual students privately to talk about the ways in which academic learning differs from that of the military is a start. Explain that this type of learning is simply a skill, similar to the many skills they already possess and will take practice. Put them in touch with tutors to assist them, as well as with student support staff, disabilities personnel and academic advisers who can ensure military students don’t fall between the cracks. Finally, as a professor, take time to give specific instructions regarding what should be included in assignments in order to provide these students some of the clear-cut direction to which they are accustomed.

College can be an aid to transitioning back to the civilian world for veteran students. Professors can help that transition by being aware of the unique needs facing these students.

Related Resource: What Types of Support Services are Available to Military Students?