SIP 7.2 Teaching Military Veterans

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

They look like their peers. They sound like their peers. They act like their peers. Students who are military veterans often have different needs than their peers, however.  

Faculty who understand and respect differences in military and civilian life can help faculty support those who have already given a lot of themselves to support us. 

Take a SIP of This: Teaching Military Veterans

Expectations in the military are typically communicated in very explicit, straightforward and concise language. Expectations in higher education can sometimes be communicated with less clarity leaving veteran students frustrated when they don’t understand what is being asked of them. 

Sensory sensitivity and alertness that is part of living and working on a military base can make focusing in classroom environments a challenge. Visual or auditory stimuli that might be imperceptible to most students can be distracting to student veterans. Even mild traumatic experiences can result in reduced concentration skills. Students who come to class late or talk during lecture can be highly problematic to a student veteran. 

In the military, the purpose of learning particular knowledgoccurs in order to complete a work-related task or to meet a goalAdult learners’ motivation will increase when they understand the “real life” application of what they are learning.  

Student veterans are serious about school. They are working toward specific goals and outcomes. They may become frustrated with their peers who are disrespectful or who appear to take their opportunities for granted. 

Student veteranhave cultural and political perspectives that can enrich instruction. Having lived all over the US and the world, military veterans have unique perspectives on various cultures that can contribute to rich classroom discussion. Their experiences in political situations may lend itself to underrepresented perspectives that can expand their peers’ thinking. The children and spouses of active duty and military veterans have perspectives based on their own set of experiences that can benefit others. 

Military veterans have practiced accountability to others, accountability to work and accountability to time. In leaving the service our military veterans transition from highly structured expectations for accountability to expectations that can be fluent and unclear.  

Military veterans bring career and leadership experience to civilian life. Student service members can model responsibility in ways that can benefit their peers. They can be good candidates for group leaders and may become frustrated by projects that drag on if classmates don’t do their part. 

Like many MSU Denver students, student veterans are entering school later than typical freshmen. Their experiences in high school could have been very different than that of their peers. Gaps between high school and college can result in having to relearn study, writing, and test-taking skills. 

Good ideas for teaching all students, but particularly military veterans: 

  • Be patient. 
  • Ask who among your students is a military veteran or reservist; still, respect the privacy of those who want to keep their service to themselves.  
  • State instructions and expectations explicitly and clearly. 
  • Keep things simple; avoid over-complicating assignments or explanations of ideas. 
  • Intentionally incorporate all students’ ideas; create a safe environment for minority perspectives. Ask student veterans about how they would like to participate in particular discussions. 
  • Be aware of your personal opinions about military service or conflicts. Stay respectful to encourage students to engage with you and the class. 
  • Reinforce the relevance of course content.  
  • Stop to check for understanding periodically and review unclear concepts when necessary. 
  • Provide ideas for the best way to study your course content; encourage students to access campus resources such as the writing center or tutoring services. 

It is common for civilians to thank members of the military for their service. Being thoughtful in teaching student veterans is one way faculty can demonstrate their thanks. 

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Teaching Military Veterans

Journal article: Coming Home to School: Challenges and Strategies for Effective Teaching with Military Veterans 

Institute for Veterans and Military Families: The Uneasy Civilian: On Campus with Faculty and Student Vets 

Blog post: Preparing Faculty to Better Serve Veterans 

San Jose State University: Teaching Student Veterans 

Visit The Well at for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher education classroom! 

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