Posted by: Gregory Linton | 08/24/2019

My advice to teachers of first-year students

At the start of each academic year, I send an email to instructors at our university who will be teaching freshmen classes. This email provides tips for engaging and retaining first-year students. I have include the text below in case these suggestions are helpful to others.

In my role as Retention Director, I am sending this email to all instructors of first-year students to provide some tips about how to teach and engage those students. The first year is crucial for retention. Most students that an institution loses from its first-time, full-time cohort are lost in the first year. Faculty members play a key role in encouraging retention of our freshmen, so here are some friendly suggestions that I hope you will consider.

  • Require the freshmen to complete team projects or put them in discussion groups so that they get connected with other students. If you can identify commuter students, put them in their own groups.
  • Remember that most of the freshmen are making the difficult transition from high school to college, so consider how to ease them into that. Make sure that your course content, requirements, and readings are pitched at the foundational, first-year level.
  • Bear in mind that we get mostly average and underprepared students. Elite students can go to highly selective, prestigious colleges for almost nothing, so we don’t get many of them here. View it as your mission and privilege to develop smartness in students who have been disadvantaged. I highly recommend the little book by Alexander Astin titled Are You Smart Enough?: How Colleges’ Obsession with Smartness Shortchanges Students.
  • Remember that many of our students are from low-income households, and most of those are first-generation students. If you assign an expensive textbook or access codes in your class, many of them will not be able to purchase them. Try to keep your course affordable.
  • If any students stop coming to class or are not submitting assignments, please fill out an Early Alert Form so that Academic Support can follow up.
  • A major contributor to retention is students connecting with instructors outside of class. I know this is challenging, especially for part-time faculty members, but try to think of ways to engage with students outside of class also.

Thank you for dedicating yourself to educating and mentoring our students. I am always available if you need any advice or encouragement.

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