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September Tea Talk

Working with Underprepared and First-Generation Students


September’s Tea Talk examines the critical questions and issues related to meeting the needs of underprepared and first-generation students. Below, you will find the main questions asked and discussed during this Diversi-Tea session, as well as some strategies to help you in the classroom.

If you are interested in joining the next Diversi-Tea sessions on October 12 and November 9, learn more and register here. 

When beginning the September Diversi-Tea session, participants were asked, “What do we mean when we say that students are underprepared?” 

Here are some of their responses:

  • Students may lack skills necessary to meet course objectives.
  • Students may be confused about expectations in the class.
  • Students may lack adequate emotional and social support systems (e.g., family and friends).
  • Students may have a lack of information about resources that can support them at UT.
  • Students may have a lack of professionalism / professional skills (e.g., they do not know how to communicate with academic professionals).
  • Students may lack the financial resources needed to fully participate in academic activities (e.g., no money for books, etc.).
  • Students in an online course may not be knowledgeable of online course etiquette.
  • Students may lack time management skills, which can affect class performance.

Diversi-Tea participants were also asked to consider the following questions:

  • How do we (teaching faculty and staff) define student success?
  • How do we make students feel seen? How do we make sure we are able to see them the way they want to be seen?
  • How do we address the needs and concerns of first-generation and underprepared students without embarrassing them?
  • How can we facilitate conversation about these students in our own departments and programs?

Diversi-Tea participants shared the following suggestions and insight in regards to working with underprepared and/or first-generation college students:

  • Solicit feedback from students at the beginning of the semester in the form of an information questionnaire in order to learn more about the expectations, needs and challenges of the learners in your classes. Click here for an example of a questionnaire that you can use. You can also get to know your students by using icebreakers in class and/or creating assignments and activities in which they have the option of sharing aspects of their personal lives. The Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching has a list of 12 Icebreakers that can be used in the college classroom here. 
  • Be yourself. Authenticity and transparency (within reason) from instructors builds rapport with students and makes the environment more comfortable for everyone.
  • Share your story. Students like to know that their instructors are human and have challenges like they do. Telling your story also may help students overcome their obstacles.
  • Solicit feedback from students about the course throughout the course, instead of just at the end of the semester. Then, use the feedback to make adaptations to the course when reasonable. Communicate the changes you have made to students to build rapport.
  • Reflect on your own understanding of success and communicate what that looks like to your students.
  • Provide information about support services on campus for students alongside the expectations. This lets students know that there is help available to assist them in meeting the objectives for the course.
  • Be transparent from the beginning about expectations for the course. Put the requirements in your syllabus, but also be sure to explain orally throughout the semester.
  • Invite students to your office hours. This can be difficult if you have a larger class, so you may have to be strategic about how you go about inviting them. One instructor remarked that if he notices something remarkable written on an information sheet at the beginning of the year (e.g., a student saying that he or she is not “fitting in,” or another student concerned about failing the class before it starts), he contacts the student and asks him or her to come to his office hours.



Need more one-on-one support? Schedule a consultation with the Teaching and Learning Center today. Or perhaps you are a graduate student interested in teaching? Our UT-CIRTL Program provides training for future faculty wanting to learn new teaching skills – learn more about it here.

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