Many Adults Go Back to School - to Learn to Teach

People 40 years old and over are returning to college and graduate school for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest motivators is the desire to teach.

This is especially true at the graduate level, where nearly half of the older students are seeking education credentials.

Graduate students as a whole, on the other hand, are more likely to pursue degrees in the fields of health, technology, business, and engineering.

"Older students are definitely more likely to go into teaching than students of the more typical age," says Susan Kuntz, dean of the Prevel School for adult students at St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vt.

For many of these students, teaching has been an idea in the back of their minds for years but has been deferred because of circumstances - often the need to choose higher-paying professions that justified the big investment represented by graduate school.

But for older students, "Finally the economic thing isn't an issue any more," explains Dr. Kuntz. "They want to do what they want to do. Perhaps it's connected with something they studied as an undergraduate" but didn't feel it was practical to stay with.

One problem with their new choice of profession, according to Kuntz and others, is that not all of these older students are cut out to be teachers. "For some of them it's an appropriate career to take, for others it's not," Kuntz says. "So it takes some time to really talk with them about it."

For one thing, baby boomers often bring a dated notion of what the classroom is like. They may have a more structured or even authoritarian concept of the classroom relationship. The inclination, naturally enough, is "to teach as we were taught," she says. "Yet there's a significant difference between how a 40-year-old was taught and how a 22-year-old was taught," she adds, and the latter is often more in tune with today's approach than the older student.

"There's a noticeable difference," she says. "It has to do with the changing nature of the school itself, as well as the changing nature of the curriculum and the way it is presented.

This issue adds a whole new component to teacher training. "You almost have to spend more time discussing ... the whole social place of school in society today," says Kuntz, "than you spend on the more specific techniques of instruction."

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