Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lies My High School Teacher Told Me: How to Better Prepare Your Students for College

As someone who recently graduated from college, I can attest to the fact that most high schools do not adequately prepare their students for the critical secondary school-university transition. College, of course, is already a huge shock of change after change. For many first-year college students, they will experience for the first time what it's like to live without their parents. They will also be surrounded by a fresh set of friends and peer pressure that is one step above what most experience in high school.

To soften the blow, I believe it is absolutely critical that high school teachers, especially those instructing junior and seniors, give their pupils a more realistic academic experience that closely resembles a college environment. Since I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and attended a public high school there, I also know first-hand some of the unique challenges presented to Valleyites who first make that leap into the higher education unknown. Here are some tips.

1. Don't remind your students of deadlines.

One aspect of my first year college experience that I had a particularly tough time getting accustomed to was the lack of hand-holding. This was especially true when it came to deadlines. Professors gave students syllabi at the beginning of the semester, and these deadlines were expected to be met without reminders. Do your students a favor and give them some personal responsibilities when it comes to time management. 

2. Encourage class participation--both in and out of the classroom.

By far the most enriching part--academically and personally--about my university experience was developing an intellectual relationship with my professors. At first, I was shy, but as time wore on I realized how much more rewarding the process of learning can be when you stop keeping your curiosity to yourself. Unfortunately, I missed out on much of the student-professor interaction simply because I wasn't used to it from being a student in high school.

While of course, student-teacher interaction at the high school level has many more limits than it does in college, a high school teacher can prepare the college student to-be by encouraging frank discussion and participation. Let students know that you are willing to talk about academics outside of the classroom in a professional environment.

3. For RGV students, prepare your students for social, cultural, and racial diversity.

The Valley is in many ways a great place in which to grow up. However, as anyone who has lived in the RGV for some time knows, the area is very heavily influenced by Hispanic and Catholic cultural values. When I moved from the Valley to a university in a very urban setting, I experienced a heavy dose of culture shock. I interpreted the idea of "personal space" as coldness, simply because in the Valley, closeness to kin and friends is the region's hallmark. I was also ill-prepared for the diversity of opinions on a range of topics. Especially if you teach social science courses in Valley schools, be sure to address some of these issues.

This guest post is contributed by Kate Cunningham, who writes on the topics of online university rankings. She welcomes your questions and comments: cn.kate1 @