10 Things I Wish I Could Tell Parents of the College Students I Teach


  1. It’s doubtful your son or daughter is the smartest person I’ve ever taught. It’s possible, of course, but the odds aren’t good. It’s like the microscopic number of high school athletes that make it to the NBA, NFL, or the MLB. Sure, it could happen. Somebody wins the lottery every day, but don’t bet your mortgage or the next 30 years of student loan debt for your child on it.
  2. Stop texting your progeny during my class. Phones are forbidden in class. College students don’t need to multi-task all the time. It’s changing their brains. I’m not kidding. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “I have to take this. It’s my mom.” Back off a little. Your son or daughter is dealing with lots of new stuff. Give him/her/them a chance to handle things themselves.
  3. The most important indicator of your child’s success in college isn’t how smart he is, what kind of high school she went to, or how well they did on the SAT or ACT. You know what the leading success indicator is? Class attendance. It’s the big kahuna. The best advice you can give them: Go. To. Class. “We aren’t doing anything in class today” is a lie. We are ALWAYS doing things in class. That’s literally what they pay us for. No online supplement will ever equal engagement in class. It’s electric.
  4. It’s not the end of the world if your student fails a class. In the scheme of things—like curing cancer, rounding up terrorists, saving for retirement, and eating your leafy greens—it’s not even a blip on the life timeline. In fact, an epic fail may be a defining moment for your student. We all learn much more from our failures than our successes. Learning what they are NOT good at it is every bit as important–maybe more important–than learning what they ARE good at.
  5. Not everyone belongs in college. I can’t believe I have to say this. It’s not a bad thing. We need all kinds of folks in our society. Everyone should have the opportunity for higher education if they want it, earn a spot, and have the brains and temperament for it, but college isn’t for everyone. Our diversity in talent, inclination, and disposition is one of our society’s strengths. Don’t send your student artist or musician to law school. The world does not need another angry lawyer. Don’t ask an aspiring teacher how she or he is going to support a family on a teacher’s salary. Ask society to pay teachers a living wage.
  6. Hard work will not necessarily result in high marks. Some students learn quickly, easily, and with little effort. Others study long hours, struggle with every new concept, and still make poor grades. Only a few students arrive on college campuses with great note-taking, researching, test preparation, and time management skills, but these are skills they can and should learn.
  7. Don’t project your own hopes and dreams—or lack of them—or your own regrets and disappointments on your offspring. It’s not your turn to go to college. It’s not YOU going through rush, trying out for a sports team, or running for student government office. Your son or daughter is not an extension of you.
  8. No matter what your student tells you, most professors want your child to do well. They hold regular office hours. Encourage your student to drop in, to ask questions, and to get involved intellectually in the life of the college.
  9. Colleges offer a myriad of free or low-cost speakers representing every interest and expertise on the planet. It’s a rich environment the likes of which your child may never encounter again. Tell them to go hear those speakers!
  10. Your son or daughter needs to know that your love and support are not conditional on how well they do in college, on the sports field, or in their chosen majors. Encourage them to explore new ideas, to find new interests, to make new friends, to try out interesting internships and employment opportunities, and to be brave in encounters outside their comfort zones. Give them room to imagine jobs and ways of life that you might not even know exist in the world today.


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2 responses to “10 Things I Wish I Could Tell Parents of the College Students I Teach

  1. Gale Saxon Main

    Excellent. Will be forwarding this one.

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