OUR STORIES | Teaching GED: Students from everywhere, 19 to 60+ years old

Chelsey Tulgren's students range from 19 to 60-something years old, and their backgrounds are as varied as their ages. For some immigrant students, "English may be their third or fourth language," she said. For other U.S.-born students, "Our school system really failed many of them."

What is it like to teach a GED class? Chelsey Tulgren talked to the Daily Planet about students, teaching, and the changes in the GED test.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The author's husband is a student in Tulgren's class.

Q: What are some of the challenges your students have faced? Can you describe a typical GED student?

A: We have students of all ages. My youngest is 19; oldest in their 60s. The majority come from low income backgrounds. A large amount are immigrants and refugees. English may be their third or fourth language. For many of them, to come back to school is a challenge in itself. Our school system really failed many of them. A lot of students have addiction histories or have spent time in prison…I also have a lot of students with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning disabilities…

We have an intake form where we ask them to identify personal goals. Many list things like ‘Find stable housing,’ or ‘Find a job.’ Many of my female students are here because they had children in high school… Many students have lots of education in their home countries but that education doesn’t mean the same thing here.

People will say things like, “Well how is it possible in this day and age that people can get by without a GED?” Well, they’re not getting by; that’s the point.

Q: How have your students reacted to the GED test changes?

A: I think students are more nervous. It’s not going to be easy, but they will be able to do it…I have a feeling students will have to prepare a lot more. It was crazy around here the end of last year with people trying to take the old test. The hardest part is the students who didn’t pass or had only one part left to finish and have to start all over.

Chelsey Tulgren: Come to my class!

To register for free classes at the Columbia Heights/Fridley Adult Basic Education Center, students must attend intake and orientation on Tuesdays at 9am or 5:30pm or Fridays at 9am if they are interested in English classes. If a student is interested in GED classes, they can come to intake and orientation on a Monday morning at 9am or Monday night at 5:30pm. Adult education is free and great! Even if students already have their GED and want to prepare for college or brush up, they are welcome in my class!

Q: Do you keep in touch with many students once they pass the GED? Do you know what they go on to do afterwards?

A: A lot of students go to college. I have one student at MCTC who still comes here for classes and does his homework here. For some it’s not even about a better job or college. Some are content with just having it. It’s their personal journey.

Q: Could you comment on the new version of the GED test?

A: On Monday I took the practice versions…I am reluctant to say it was more difficult because I don’t want to discourage students. I think it more appropriately meets needs in the workplace and in post-secondary education.

Q: How have the test’s changes impacted your teaching?

A: In general, math is still math, reading is still reading, but we do need to encourage more problem-solving and critical thinking skills…(For example) for writing, in the past students were asked something like, “What is your favorite activity?” and they would just write. Now it’s evidence-based writing, based on a text they read…The way we are encouraging that is by more direct instruction. Right now in our class we have all levels-5th grade reading level to a college level- so it’s difficult to do direct instruction but we really need to focus on specific student needs and be more effective in our teaching.

Another huge change is that it’s on the computer now, so we’re providing more computer time for our students. That’s huge- especially if they haven’t grown up with computers.

We’re also breaking students up more by level. It’s like boot camp mode now…They can meet this challenge. Our students have been through many challenges and they’ll meet this one.

  • A really interesting article, Erin. It should be well worth reading for a lot ot people. - by Carol Stedman Johansen on Wed, 01/22/2014 - 12:50pm
  • Felicidades - by Higinio Salinas on Wed, 01/22/2014 - 1:56pm
  • =) - by Higinio Salinas on Wed, 01/22/2014 - 1:55pm

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Erin Elizabeth Collins Salinas's picture
Erin Elizabeth Collins Salinas

Erin Collins (erin dot coll0200 at gmail dot com) is a St. Paul native, occupational therapist and jewelry artist, who has lived in Mexico for the past seven years.