Did you ever look back upon your career and reflect on those humble beginnings? As educators, we sometimes forget that it was not easy to aspire to the higher academic goals we have been so fortunate to have attained. When we counsel our students, we must not disregard that they too have many barriers to overcome in their journey to be successful. In retrospect, we can embrace the challenges we must face in the effort to ensure our students’ academic success.

One morning during break, I overheard one of my student’s discussion with her colleague regarding how lucky she was that her children would be cared for over the weekend. This would allow her time needed to study for the final exam. Knowing this student, I was aware that she was a single parent and working mom, and more importantly, my student was pursuing a future career in nursing no less. It was a revelation that this fortunate incident for her was not expected, but was a gift. I began to ponder how this student would have prepared for the final if the childcare issues had not been resolved. Upon review, I realized that this student’s grades were not always consistent. During counsel, her excuses for poor grades or incomplete homework assignments were due to illness (whether be it her own or one of her children’s) or because of a busy work schedule, which entailed all shifts conceivable. So, when did she have time to study?

Lack of study time was also noticeable in the part-time evening students. I ­recall the blank stares on their faces during a Q&A session in preparation for the day’s lesson. Upon inquiry, the group confessed that they had not prepared for the evening’s lecture in their attempt to balance work, family, homework, and study hours. The weekends had been relegated to study time in preparation for the upcoming week’s assignments, albeit incomplete. Add this to childcare, spousal duties, and familial responsibilities and you have one overworked, fatigued, and ill-prepared ­nursing ­student.

Many times, as educators we focus on the negative aspects of our students: the fatigue, lack of engagement during lecture or clinical, and the behavioral issues (tardiness, ­absenteeism, and disputes with colleagues). This can hinder our ability to focus on putting interventions into place to enhance our students’ learning abilities. We might complain about time consumed due to providing an inordinate amount of time with a student that was not responding to intense tutelage. Perhaps we should invest in discussions about the ever-changing policies affecting our curriculum or work hours. Somehow, the drudgery of this negative outlook overshadows a focus on the academic pursuits of those ­struggling to attain a portion of our accomplishments. We must be sensitive to the vulnerability of this population during their journey. Whether it be in the case of the traditional, the returning, or the recycled adult learner, financial constraints are taxing. Adhering to professional and attendance policies takes effort. Striving to maintain a precarious balancing act to function commendably in multiple roles are all central themes of the adult learner. In acknowledging this, it is incumbent upon us to assist our students in getting past these barriers.

I have contemplated methods to assist nursing students, which have resulted in ­better outcomes. Some interventions I have put into place have made the difference in my students’ success as evidenced in their test scores. The following interventions are worth noting:

  • Games: the Millennials love them. Who said learning should be boring? The younger generation thrives off the technological ­support, which ­surreptitiously enhances learning. The games can be competitive, informal, and applied individually or after breaking the class into groups. Games are used best when they can be accessed as a resource after classroom sessions as a study tool before testing.
  • Provide a quick recap at the end of class. Some students may be so attentive during lecture that they do not take notes that were imperative to have as a review for the next test. This is easy to rectify by providing a short review of pertinent facts at the end of the day, paying special attention to the material that will be included on the test. This quick review gives the learner another chance to process and make note of what the instructor was attempting to stress in the previous lecture(s). This may seem redundant, but we cannot forget that this is all new information for the learner.
  • Remind the student of your availability. I state my office hours on a weekly basis most emphatically after testing. This publicly reinforces my commitment to their learning needs and hopefully abates their reluctance to seek my instruction.
  • Review one-on-one over the previous tests taken with students who have scored poorly. Allow the student to reflect, write, and question the material covered in the test(s). Educators have gained insight about their students during these sessions (e.g., what type of learner they are, if there are linguistic barriers, and/or if there is a lack of effective study habits). This session also establishes a rapport between you and the learner, which can be motivational.
  • Allocate extra time to be available for hours before testing. You would be surprised to see how many students will attend for review after a long, clinical day in anticipation of a test pending the next day. Is it more time consuming? Not nearly as much as counseling them one-on-one would be.

These are a few tips I have used to incorporate in teaching my students before I notice a decline in test scores. As I look back on my humble beginnings, I realize that the barriers I encountered are not so different. I am fortunate enough to have had support and encouragement throughout my career as a student and as a practitioner. It is as challenging for both the educator and the learner; diligence is required from all parties. But we are in the trenches together. We all had to start somewhere.

Michelle Tanner, MSN, RN

Michelle Tanner, MSN, RN, has 40 years of nursing experience, which has been derived from a diverse background. Over the course of her career, she has practiced in the acute care setting, long-term care, and management and presently teaches in New England.

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