I Guess I Should Be Teaching More Than Just Accounting

One of the things I remember most about teaching during the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters was how quiet the classes were in those few minutes before class began.

To me, it was a combination of social distancing, masks, teaching freshmen, and cell phones, all of which helped to create a barrier of sorts between the students. In my opinion, cell phones had already started a trend towards less social interaction a few years ago, and the pandemic just magnified the problem.

Those memories came back to me because of a story I read earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal:

College Students Have to Learn How to Make Small Talk Again

Julie Jargon, the reporter, notes that a combination of remote learning and overdependence on screens have left college students anxious about interacting in real life; College instructors worry that if they don’t do something to facilitate conversation in class, their students will be unprepared to enter the workforce.

As I read that last part, I started to feel anxious. What do I know about facilitating conversation?

But then Jargon included a statistic that made me quite sad:

Researchers from three universities surveyed nearly 33,000 college students around the U.S. and found two-thirds were struggling with loneliness in the fall of 2020.

This reminded me of a post I wrote nearly four years ago, in which I referenced a survey of nearly 28,000 students on 51 campuses by the American College Health Association. The survey, taken in 2017, found that more than 60 percent said that they had “felt very lonely” in the previous 12 months. Nearly 30 percent said that they had felt that way in the previous two weeks.

So it seems clear that the pandemic did not cause this problem of isolation, but it certainly made it worse.

Jargon writes that In the past, socializing wasn’t just a perk but also a big incentive for students choosing campus life.

Damon Moon, who teaches international business at San Jose State University, notes that “Schools were an environment that encouraged students to have reasonable conversations and build relationships during their formative years.”

So perhaps I need to be a bit more proactive in making sure students aren’t staring at their screens, but rather chatting with the person next to them.

Maybe I can get things started by talking about the usual things that interest college students, like bowling, brainteasers, and blogging. At that point, the students will realize that they are better at this small talk stuff than I am, and leave me out of the conversation.

That’s fine with me.

I just want the students to look back on their college years fondly, and not remember it as a time of loneliness and odd professors…

*image from the Association of Psychological Science

65 thoughts on “I Guess I Should Be Teaching More Than Just Accounting

  1. I believe a student or someone else could be standing in the middle of a party and still be lonely. Or live in a very busy residence and still be lonely. College/university is such an in between stage of life that I think a lot of students don’t adjust to it as well as they pretend to. It can be a very lonely time.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You have a caring heart Jim! Loneliness is a problem among all ages I think and there isn’t an easy solution, but we can all try to do what we can to reach out to people and give them a reason to smile.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I remember reading that loneliness is becoming a serious national health issue, but I usually thought it was among older people. It makes me sad to think of college students as being lonely – I want them, like the Green Day song says, To Have the Time of Their Life…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Julie Jargon,” what a great name for a reporter.

    I think that preventing loneliness has to do with a lot more than talking. My mother has always suffered from loneliness, and she talks like a machine. I think you have to be willing to look deep inside others, to figure them out. And that requires a lot of observing and listening. And you also have to be willing to look deep inside yourself, to understand what it is you are really feeling and needing. I think once you know yourself well, and those around you, you’ll have no trouble connecting, even if you never speak a word with anyone.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’ve always thought that about Julie’s name as well. She is one of my favorite reporters for the WSJ (I have several!)

      and I appreciate your thoughtful comments about loneliness. and I agree,a big issue is just taking the time to observe and listen…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s a tough one. Being lonely in a crowd is hard, especially when you are just getting to know yourself. Small talk, when done well, is a tool that can really help in social situations, not just empty words at a party. I wish I was better at it and I wish I had some words of advice for you how to make it easier for your students. All I can do is thank you for caring. They are lucky to have this odd professor.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve gotten to the point where I am ok being by myself, but when I was in college, it was much tougher. I know being by yourself and being lonely are different, but I wonder if some college students equate the two. Hopefully we can find a way to make them feel more a part of the college environment!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re a decent sort of a bloke Jim. Nearly fifty years later and I still remember the good teachers fondly. I also remember ‘bitchy Barnes’ the hot science teacher who bikini top came off at the swimming carnival one year.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It’s funny because I look at my college years as the time I became far less introverted. I think interacting with others is just hard for some. I don’t know what the answer is other than in elementary school I tried to come up with ways to give all kids (but especially the quiet ones) safe opportunities to practice public speaking. I think you’re on to something with the lack of interaction because of the pandemic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I also came out of my shell in college, but over the years I’ve edged closer back to it. I shared the article with my students today, more just to let them know that they are not alone if they are experiencing a feeling of loneliness..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As others have indicated, I’m sure your students appreciate that you have their best interests in mind. My most memorable teachers were the ones who went beyond teaching a designated curriculum and showed us we were more than something than a means to collect a paycheck.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I think you’re right. Encouraging discussion in class is vital. Whether people will feel lonely or not, some effort needs to be made toward conversations wherever we can get them.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Yes, it’s very sad that so many should feel such loneliness. In my opinion – the best thing a teacher can do is to teach efficiently and kindly. Perhaps today’s social media confuses being on ones own with loneliness…

    Liked by 2 people

  9. conversation can be uncomfortable for some people, i myself am not good in big groups, having to make small talk. give me one or two people i can regale with my stories and base of useless knowledge, and i’m good for hours on end. (not sure they feel the same)

    college generally hits at an age where students are in limbo between home and life out in the world, and they often fumble their way through it. it does seem that social discourse has become a bit awkward and unnatural for many, and they need lots of practice, and i do think human interaction is so important.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. you sound like me, except I don’t have any good stories to regale people with.

      and college is tough enough for some students to make the social adjustments, but throw social media and a pandemic in there, and it becomes quite challenging for many of them…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Get them to pair up and do the daily Wordle puzzle at the beginning of a class session. They’ll either be talking to each other or coming to blows! And ‘Julie Jargon’ is a great piece of nominative determinism 😊

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Might be worth a try. Could be fun – or a disaster!

        She does, but not as good as the dentist I had for a while in my teens: Mr Pain – and it really was spelled like that!

        It’s a great phrase. Your challenge, Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to either work it into a blog post or make it the subject of a post…

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I never knew Wikipedia had a topic of the day! You’ve just opened a whole new world to me – it might even be good for a post or two in addition to a brief class discussion. Thanks, Tandy!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. People need people. College is the perfect place to hone those people skills. I think every college should have an active student union building, so fingers crossed the pandemic will be ‘over’ in the spring, and kids can get back to hanging out with others. I’d bet your small talk in the classroom is pretty good!

    Liked by 2 people

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