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Working With Veteran Students

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Veterans make up a unique segment of the SPC student population. Veterans are desirable students because they are usually older and more disciplined. But teaching veterans can also make an instructor a little uncomfortable. How do you challenge students who have lived through their experiences?

Today CETL talks with Jeff Cavanagh, Director of Veterans Services, Allison Shenofsky who runs the Seminole Veterans Service Center, and some veteran students who sat in on the interview for suggestions on working with veteran students.

What makes veteran students so special?

We don’t consider ourselves special. Even when we’re thanked for our service, we’re thinking, “I was just doing my job.” Many find it very uncomfortable to be singled out. Veterans don’t want to be treated any differently, but they may still need additional support.

So why do veterans need additional support?

Veterans are just like any other student for the most part. The biggest difference is that they may be slightly older and feel surrounded by kids. They want to integrate, they don’t want just veteran classes, but this is not an instantaneous process.

The military gives only get a week training for transition, up from 3 days in the past, but many finish as quickly as possible, so they can have some time to themselves. That one-week may actually be 3 days on a computer and the rest of the time packing, hunting housing, etc. So many veteran students consider themselves military still, not veteran.

They tend to sit in back of classroom because they’re assessing who needs to be saved in emergency or other what-if scenarios. And this isn’t just veterans who’ve seen combat. They’ve all been trained to think like this.

What support does Veterans Services provide?

We find there’s an automatic connection among veterans, regardless of their background or status. Being a veteran gives these students a common culture. Students can get together to study, socialize, and find solutions to any problems that come up.

In addition to this supportive environment, Veterans Services works closely with the federal Veterans Administration and SPC’s Disability Resources to work out financial aid or accommodation issues.

How can teachers help?

The most common challenges are enrollment issues. Veterans register early because they also have to apply for 60-day deferment. It takes up to 2 months in some cases to get money processed. Students may find themselves dropped from a class and have to go through additional hoops to be reinstated. The teacher can help by letting the students still come to class and access Angel until the issue is resolved.

Another enrollment area where veterans differ from other students is in withdrawals or drops. Usually, teachers encourage students to drop a class if they’re failing because failing a class could cost the student financial aid, along with messing up his or her GPA. However, if a veteran drops a class, that’s considered quitting and can mean loss of funding. It’s better for veterans to fail and try again, so they should get an ‘F’ instead of a ‘W.’

I’ve had veteran students with erratic attendance, performance, or behavior. How can you help?

Send an Early Alert for any student you observe having problems. Early Alert for veterans will go to the Veterans Services offices. In addition, teachers should be aware that veteran students are not subject to the same FERPA regulations as other students. Teachers can email or come to Veterans Services and ask for assistance without violating student privacy. We fully support the school’s policies regarding behavior and attendance.

We encourage you to get Veterans Services involved because we can talk to the student and straighten out any underlying problems. As veterans ourselves, we have earned that right to be blunt and talk directly with the student in a way he or she can understand and respond to.

As an instructor, I try to ask thought-provoking questions that foster critical thinking. How can I ask questions that examine government policy without being rude to veterans?

Military culture trains you to say what’s on your mind because of safety issues. Veterans will say what they think frequently directly in very black and white terms. However, they are trained to be tolerant and courteous in the military, so the teacher should expect cooperation.

A student who is uncomfortable with provoking questions in the interest of critical thinking will have to learn to deal with it. Difference in opinions may come about because frequently the veteran is older and working with students who have just finished high school may seem like working with children. The veteran can bring world view and experience to create more exciting discourse or education at its finest.

If a teacher is concerned about a lesson, they’re welcomed to bring it to Veterans Services for input. Teachers shouldn’t assume students would be offended by a question. All of today’s military personnel are volunteers. Reasons for enlisting vary, but most don’t want what they pledged for to be defiled by assumption of wholesale support for government policies or actions.

What other kinds of issues should instructors look for?

We encourage students to approach instructors and left them know if they’re a veteran and we encourage teachers to do the same. If you have a veteran student, ask them if they’ve been to see Veterans Services.

Deployment comes out of nowhere. A student can be recalled without notice if he or she is in the reserves. If a student is recalled to active duty, Veteran Services can handle their withdrawal or extension.

Veterans have full lives like every other student, but this may be the first time they’ve handled them. If they went into the military from high school, they may have never had to put down deposits for housing or insurance, etc. If they’ve been overseas throughout their military career, they won’t know common movie or TV references. You could be dealing with adults who are not familiar with everyday US culture as well as the school environment.

Thank you, Jeff, Allison, and all the veterans who contributed to this article , for the suggestions on how to best meet your needs! Instructors, share the teaching experiences you’ve had with veterans in the comments section below. What was particularly successful for you?

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