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Transitioning to a university life from school: An educator’s perspective

Upasana Sarma

Undergraduate students endure a transition phase as they leave the protected environs of a school to enter a college or a university. This phase comes with its challenges and celebrations, and educators play a significant part in it. In this article, Upasana Sarma, an educator from REVA University, Bengaluru throws light on some of the responsibilities that educators have in this phase of their students’ lives.

Upasana Sarma transition
Source: University of the Fraser Valley, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every August, a new batch of undergraduates joins the university. As the transition from school to college/​university can be overwhelming, student needs to adjust to newer teaching styles, imbibe the university atmosphere, learn to be independent and excel academically. An educator plays a crucial role in onboarding students coming from diverse backgrounds and pursuing different dreams and ambitions. 

On the other hand, the relationship between students and their professors has evolved in recent times. In current times, social media and the internet have played a major role in this change. Teachers are more accessible and approachable. The lines have blurred between the official hours and after-hours. Navigating these tricky waters, our role as educators needs to be a balance between firm and friendly in dealing with the young adults of our country.

Based on my personal experience as a faculty member dealing with UG and PG programmes in life sciences, the following are the pressing matters of this transition period and the role that educators play in it.

A sudden change of scenario and a sense of independence

The move from a higher secondary school to a university or college is a huge change in terms of the environment and campus life. From strict back-to-back classes in school, one moves to more relaxed and staggered class timings. Students get ample time to explore different courses of their choice and to participate in multiple extracurricular events at the departmental to university levels. It is up to them to utilize this opportunity to broaden their perspectives and explore new things. There is also a chance of students whiling away their time without any outcome during the entire period of campus life.

Aligning with new pedagogical approaches and tools of learning

University educators are commonly PhD holders with varied interests in research and teaching domains. As studies become more extensive, areas of expertise become more niche at this level. Students have to do a lot more on their own. Academically it becomes a phase of self-learning and coming to terms with one’s strengths and weaknesses. Newer methods of learning can be challenging to imbibe in the start but can help in creating more curiosity in the long run.

Adulthood and social interactions

Students of this age are on the brink of adulthood and are expected to behave like one. The protection from family and guardians takes a drop and one starts navigating challenges on their own. One has to make new friends, forge new relationships, and network with like-minded people, both to grow as an individual and to improve academically. It takes time to become your own person but university or college life is definitely a cornerstone for the same. 

Ambitions and broken dreams 

For some students, this is also the period when they feel the first emotion of broken dreams. Not being able to get into the course of one’s choice can be a major heartbreak. Students might have ended up in courses selected by parents. In such scenarios, they should be able to let go of the disappointment of past experiences and embrace this new life wholeheartedly. It is easier said than done. Some spiral downwards while some excel, some adapt and try to make the most of it, and some turn disappointment into opportunities for themselves. 

    Educators play a crucial role in helping students navigate these challenges. Hence, teaching students in the first year of college comes with many responsibilities.

    Creating a sense of trust in new students

    This is a trust-building phase where both parties are getting to know each other in a professional set-up. A teacher has to be a firm individual and treat each student with grace and kindness. Building trust is a long process and initial days hold a lot of importance for this lifelong bond. Hence, one has to tread carefully and make informed decisions in matters of disciplining students

    Mentoring students

    From social, emotional, and financial to family issues, a mentor plays a crucial role in many aspects of a student’s life. Mentees (the students) come from mixed backgrounds and it is challenging for the mentor to be the guide, philosopher and friend to the best of their ability. The education systems worldwide are moving towards a phase of entrepreneurship and research-oriented courses. The encouragement to pursue one’s dreams or start one’s own venture has gained a lot of momentum. Students often approach educators first with nascent ideas that have the capacity to bring about a big change in the near future. We need to provide them with support and guide them towards ways to turn such dreams into reality. In this regard, there is hardly any formal training for educators but one should step up to be a role model and a mentor for these young minds who tend to look up to them at every step.

    Privacy and a clear line of boundary between both sides 

    In the process of building a teacher-student relationship, very often, lines become blurred when it comes to privacy. In today’s times of incessant pings on your phone through various apps, an educator has to be firm from the start about their personal space and not let it be infiltrated. Matters that require immediate attention can be discussed beyond work timings but that clarity has to be established in students’ mindsets. It is a tricky thing to achieve but once clear boundaries are set, the road ahead becomes much smoother and clearer. 

    In conclusion, the way forward for both sides is to build a solid base of trust, understanding and kindness towards each other. Infrastructure, teaching modules, regulations and day-to-day activities/​circumstances play an integral part in this too. No relationship is perfect unless one is willing to put in the effort from the beginning. Keeping this in mind, students can embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey of college life with open minds to learn something new every day, and educators can put in that extra effort to make this journey worthwhile for them. Then it is a win-win situation for all. 

    Written By

    Upasana Sarma has a PhD in Medical Microbiology.