Saying Goodbye

Sand and wave approaching; in the sand, someone has written "Goodbye"The academic term-to-end-all-academic terms will soon be finished. It included a pandemic, a nation-wide economic crisis which touched nearly all of us, and changed how most of us in higher education, worked. Other than that – it was business as usual, right?

Classes—be they extended due to weeks for transitioning to online delivery or not—are about to be completed. First off—congratulate yourself. You did it—the ways that faculty and staff have pulled together in this extraordinary time have been inspiring to witness. Congratulate your students as well; many of them stayed with classes because classes provided one of the few stable patterns in their chaotic new “present.” But that inspiration and perspiration have also created exhaustion, incredible stress, and a myriad of emotions, for everyone.

So let’s talk about one of those emotions: saying goodbye to your students this term. I confess; I never felt that I did the “last day” very well. After going over grades, I tried to sum up key concepts and engage with students about how they could use those concepts in their professional and personal lives. But often, it was clear that students just wanted to be “done” and were very happy when I dismissed the class for the last time (save for the final exam, to be taken only by some of the students).

Quote: We don't live through live only by our own experiences, we live through life with other people's experiences as a reference too. -- Nike ThaddeusHow you end an academic term where, for many, more life experiences have been shared than ever before? This term, those “final moments” might be even more interactionally difficult: they perhaps will be on software like Zoom, where many are on at a time and so the moment has to be public in a way that a face-to-face interaction might not be. Or they might be embedded in an asynchronous posting which not all students might even read.

It might be more difficult this term because their grades might not reflect what all has happened to them, to you, to the class, and to our world. It could feel awkward awarding the grade a student earned, given all that you might have learned about her or his current situation. Prioritize kindness and humanity right now, whenever you can. So what to do in your last time with your class?

Be honest—something I hope you have been doing throughout this pandemic’s new pedagogy. Tell them if it is difficult to acknowledge that in a few days or weeks, you won’t see them regularly and will worry about them, their health, economic security, and that of their families too. Acknowledge their worries about you and yours as well.

Do you have to say “goodbye” though? I ask because you might want to understand fully the limits of the software you have been using. Will the Zoom “room” allow a student to continue to log in and talk with you after the semester is over? Can you prevent that from happening, if you want to/need to? Or if you are using your institution’s learning management system, do you understand how long the class page will stay active? If you are like me, I would “hide” my past classes and only keep current class pages visible, but that means it would be more difficult for you to notice if this term’s students checked in with you via the learning management system. They may need that ability to reach out to you and hiding the class will complicate communication. Will you encourage students to contact you via your school email? Again—some of this just involves understanding thoroughly the tools you have been using. And sharing that knowledge with students, so that they know how to stay in touch if they wish to do so (and you concur).

What about advisees? Especially those who are about to graduate? With most public moments to celebrate canceled, there will be fewer opportunities to congratulate them, wish them well, and celebrate their successes. Can your department or program host a virtual party and invite them to attend? Or can you do a smaller one for your advisees? Could you start an official Facebook (or perhaps Instagram) account which would allow them to choose to follow you? There you could post job announcements, link to articles about job hunting (in general or in the post-pandemic job market), and would allow you to encourage and support them in the days and weeks ahead. It could also create a social network for them to connect with each other as they spread out across the country.

back of beige envelope; it is closed and sealed with red waxOne of the things I did the moment it became clear that our country (or most of it) was headed for shelter-in-place guidelines was to buy a large number of blank cards. For the price of a stamp (which helps out the US Postal Service—an organization that desperately needs our support), I can stay in touch with former students and graduates who I know are on the job market. I’ve offered to review/edit resumes and be a reference. Most importantly, I’ve offered to just listen as they game out their job search.

It won’t be easy, no matter how you and your students say goodbye. Give yourself time to process your feelings, time to decompress from what has happened, time to just breathe. Celebrate their successes, and yours. Next week will come and it might mean time to begin to prepare for summer or fall classes.

But Spring 2020 will be one for the history books. You made it. They made it. You all persevered. Give yourself permission to have mixed emotions as it ends. Have them, feel them, reach out, and share them. Know your students will not soon forget you, how you pivoted to face the pandemic and how you taught them—and not just the academic content. You taught them and learned from them what being human is all about—the good, the confusing, the anxiousness, the fear, and the ability to focus, even if it was for just a few minutes at a time.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.






Helping Students Transition to the Labor Market

One learning outcome of many degree programs is to ensure that graduating students have the skills (hard and soft) needed for successful entry into the labor market, preferably using their degrees. One problem though, especially for majors like sociology, is that there are potentially hundreds if not thousands of entry-level jobs related to the major. Many juniors and seniors, though, consider only a narrow range of job possibilities (for example, many sociology students who want to “help” think they are limited to jobs at the Department of Family and Children’s Services). It is up to faculty and advisors to help them to see a much broader expanse of job and career options.

I want to talk about how, acting in my role as faculty advisor, I engaged with students, allowing them to consider over 100 jobs, types of people they could encounter in those jobs, and work environments—thereby giving them the possibility of matching their personal skill set, their sociological imagination, and the entry-level labor market. In a later post, I will expand on this and discuss how converted this exercise into a set of class activities when I taught our senior capstone course that largely was focused on sociological professionalization.

I had an advising load of from 25-40 students, nearly all of them were of junior or senior standing. I would invite each one individually to join me at Starbucks for some “coffee and career talk” during the last semester of their junior year or early in their senior year. We’d get coffee and a table for two. I’d ask them to put everything away and told them that I was there to ask questions and to write down their replies. I pulled out a notepad and divided it into three columns: “Yes the student could see self doing that job or working in that environment or working with that type of person;” or “Maybe I could see myself doing that/working there/working with that type of person;” or “No, I don’t think I could do that/work there/work with that type of person.” I promised the student that I would not judge their answers because these were deeply personal questions. I gave an example about how I could see myself teaching high school students but there is no way that I would ever teach middle grades (I feel it would be teaching more hormones than humans!). I did ask that they make quick decisions, because I have found their first response tended to be the more honest/less “think well of me, Dr. Lowney” kind of answers.

I would start by asking them about jobs that our graduates frequently took right out of college, such as domestic violence worker, sexual assault case worker, college admissions recruiter, police officer, pharmaceutical representative, social change activist, social media specialist, probation officer, gerontologist at senior center, etc. This list helped to break through their narrow list of possible jobs. Then I would ask about types of people they wanted to work with (e.g., persons with disabilities, well seniors, kids with cancer, adult learners, migrant workers, persons in jail/prison, etc.). I would end with some specific working environments that many of our program’s recent graduates had experienced.

Here is an example of what my notes for the student might look like:

Question Type

Yes Maybe


Type of Person Abused kids Kids involved in delinquency Sick kids
Domestic violence victims Domestic violence perpetrators Hospice patients
Job Title Crisis social worker Social worker in juvenile court system Case worker at hospital or specialty hospital
College admissions recruiter Pharmaceutical representative Statistician
Type of Working Environment 8AM-5PM office job Use own car regularly as part of job (e.g., intensive parole) Be tied to beeper on 2 weekends/month or called out 24/7 every other week
Primarily due with paperwork, not people Working in team Almost all dealing with people in crisis

Many students would be in shock by the end of our talk. When they sat down with me, they could barely think of 5 jobs that were real possibilities for their “next step.” An hour later, they left with a list of over 100 jobs and how they felt about them. Most students had about 60-70 jobs on the “yes” or “maybe” categories—which meant they had many more possibilities. And it wasn’t just the student who felt better; I had many parents send me “thank you e-mails” for taking time to do this with their child.

Faculty in our role as advisor, working with professional advisors, need to be able to share with students a wealth of career possibilities. Even with the same degree, our students have different personalities, different ways of being in the world, with different skills, so knowing the types of jobs a taciturn student might do well in versus a more out-going student, skilled at working in groups, and so on, have become a part of our faculty duties.

But knowing types of jobs students might want to apply for is not enough. Too few understand how to create a job search plan or understand all the steps needed to apply to graduate school. College staff—professional advisors, career counselors, and faculty—need to create opportunities for students to practice these professional skills before they must use them after graduation. In next week’s blog post, I’ll share how I constructed a senior capstone course centered around building these professionalization skills.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.