Teaching Freshmen

There are some special characteristics of freshmen students that set them apart from other students and which teachers of freshmen should keep in mind:

  • Most entering freshmen have just completed twelve years of primary and secondary education in which:
    • They performed according to a daily schedule of assignments, which were often collected and graded. Most of them moved together from class to class and from term to term, forming a continuing and strong support network. Their grading systems were weighed according to the course’s level of difficulty.
  • All the institution’s resources (including the teacher) were available to them on a daily basis in one or two buildings.

As a result, the expectations of the university, which emphasize self-initiation, independence and self-reliance, are quite unsettling for most of the freshmen.

  • Most often, college is the first experience that freshmen have where there is an extended period of independent living.  The transition from family, city (or town) and high school to the newness of independence, the absence of urban life and the wonders of the University can all too easily overshadow what the students may perceive as dull rigorous academic responsibilities. Unlike upperclassmen who have learned what the University expects of them, freshmen are still at the stage of being shocked at how much independence they have and how large the burden of responsibility is that has been placed on them.
  • The size and the complexity of the University can be very confusing and intimidating to students whose University chemistry class could be half the population of their entire high school.  Their classmates and even roommates will be strangers to them.  The University environment, which requires students to seek out their own resources, can be intimidating to these students who have been trained to be passive recipients of educational services.
  • For the most part, entering freshmen rank in the upper three quarters of their graduating high school classes, and have grown accustomed to being popular and respected by their teachers and their peers.  At the University, many of them are anonymous, relegated to a number, and competing with top ranking students from many other high schools.  Thus sometimes the transition from high school to college can be difficult.

Therefore, as you prepare for discussion and lab sessions with your students who will mostly be these entering freshmen, keep these points in mind so that you can minimize the difficulties that they face.  Sympathize and empathize.  Believe it or not, you were once in the same boat as they are now.