Identifying Student Populations: A Guide for the Non Sociologist Freeway Flyer

Working at multiple colleges and campuses provides opportunities to teach students of many different backgrounds, needs, and interests. Here are some of the student population types you may encounter:

  • The Dual Enrollment Students. These students are easy to identify because they travel in packs; in fact, you can often hear them coming before you see them. It is almost unheard of for a high school student to go anywhere alone. This population often makes a complete turnaround: by the following fall when they are officially new college students, they enter the room timidly, quietly, and alone.
  • The New College Students. These students are harder to spot than they used to be, although they may still look shiny and new. They may be the traditional recent high school graduates, high school graduates who took some time off after graduation, or high school graduates who took a lot of time off after graduation.
  • The Viet Nam Era Veterans. If your class is held in a computer lab, these students will be the only ones who do not turn on the computer the minute they sit down. The last time they typed was on an IBM Selectric. Not only will you have to show them how to use Word 2007, you will have to teach them keyboarding. They are not afraid to ask questions, though, and are excited about new accomplishments.
  • The Auditing Students. Be careful: they may know as much as you do. The best way to handle these students is to use their expertise. However, if they raise their hands at every question, say something like, “Good, let’s hear what (insert Genius’s name here) has to say, then we’ll take comments from some other students.
  • The Husband and Wife Team, or Boyfriend and Girlfriend Team. The couple that studies together, stays together (and leaves together and misses class together). After all, they are a package deal.
  • The Overbooked Students. These students are carrying 18 or more credit hours and are working one or more jobs. They may have families of their own, or even two families. Be glad this student shows up at all, and be prepared for a lot of communication by email.
  • The Pretty Princesses. There will be  pink, jeweled cell phones lying within their reach on the table in the classroom. The surprise is that even after the discussion of classroom rules on the first day, the phone will still appear on the table each class. If you ask them to put the phones away, they will look at you as though you had requested that they remove their thumbs. You may need to warn student that any phone that rings during class will be answered by you; and, then if one rings, you need to actually do it. A department chair of mine does this; obviously, she is my idol.
  • The Laptop Kings. Under the guise of taking notes in class, these students are actually trying to make big bucks in online poker. Once when I was “working the room” during a class, I casually closed a student’s laptop computer as I went by his table. I hope he didn’t have a full house. On second thought, that would make an even bigger impression, wouldn’t it?
  • The Nontraditional Students. These students often work days and come to class at night. Be careful: these students are usually tired and hungry. These students are hard workers and will appreciate it if you get right to the content with no messing around. You may hear grumbling from these students if you ask the class to work in small groups or with partners. Just the facts, please.

These students are what define a class and make one section of a class memorable against the dozens of other sections you teach over the semesters. Enjoy the many mixes of personalities, levels of abilities, and types of students. They are all unique and make the classes unique rather than all blended together.

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