I just talked to a colleague who used to be a high school teacher and is now teaching college for the first time. I asked her what was the most unexpected thing about college teaching that she encountered.
“I didn’t expect college students to be exactly the same as high school kids,” she said. “There are students who don’t even try to make an effort, who abandon the course for no particular reason after it’s too late to withdraw officially, who come in late, who listen to music in the classroom, who resist learning with everything they’ve got.”
“Aren’t you used to that?” I asked.
“Yes, but that is what’s so shocking. These students have to pay to be in college. Don’t they see that they are wasting this money – money they often don’t even have – by refusing to be educated?”
I also find this behavior to be completely bizarre. We don’t have any rich students who know their parents will easily cover the costs and not even notice it. I’ve seen many students with their parents at a variety of events our school organizes. These are all very modest families who are making an effort to send their kids to college. It’s one thing when a student comes from a crappy high school, falls behind, and has to drop out. What I don’t get, though, is what makes students who are doing quite well just give up for no discernible reason.
You’ll say this is high-school mentality that these students haven’t been able to shed just yet, that they are young and immature. You know what I’m noticing, though? You encounter this defeatist mentality and this profound indifference among the age group of 25-45 more often than in any other age group. (We have quite a few older students.) The best, most responsible, most engaged, passionate, energetic, and intelligent students are those between the ages of 45 and 75 (I haven’t had anybody older.) The youngsters in the age group of 18-25 fall somewhere in the middle between the 45-75 and 25-45 group.
Of course, this is anecdotal evidence based on my quite limited experience.