The art of listening-incoming & returning students


In exactly one week over 5,000 freshman will move into our quiet college town and the beauty of summer will be gone for another 365 days.  I look forward to new students, returning students, and getting back on a schedule.  As I’ve reflected on the summer (it was an excellent summer), I found myself talking to many future students about what they would “need” for college.  Besides a laptop, a dining plan, and some awesome study skills, I started thinking about the other things new and returning students needed.  If I could offer one piece of advice to a new freshman or a returning undergraduate student, it would be to close your mouth, open your ears, and LISTEN.  Listening appears to be a lost art in our society and I can share with you that the times I learned the most, I was listening, observing, and not talking or the center of attention. Let me explain….

As I began this post, I was in the middle of a week long camp on STEM that my office is hosting.  It was interesting to see how different kids are now versus just a few years ago when I left the classroom.  Listening has become a skill that seems to be lost and only holding on by a string, not to mention other basic skills like typing.  With such demand and reliance on computers, it’s amazing to me to know that these kids cannot type properly (not chicken pecking) and when asked to even find the ‘shift’ key, many could not. I realize that this issue is a funding problem, any electives in many schools have been stripped due to funding and budget cuts and unfortunately, it does not appear to be improving.

Chronicle ran a nice article on the art of listening that I read closely and took to heart.  I also saw an interesting article from the New Yorker on why American kids are so spoiled and it compounded my affirmations. As I write this, I’m watching two very capable undergrads work at facilitating one of our sessions and the students in the camp are having trouble with a very basic skill.  Communication.  Listening is an act of communication that seems to be failing this group of young people.  They all want to speak, yet they don’t want to listen.

This excerpt from the article really resonated with me: “”Listening” is at the center of an education: It takes many forms (visual, auditory, sensory), but is the only way to understand another’s life and experience. But my students—and probably yours—have been taught the opposite. They have been raised in a culture that constantly reinforces that what is important about an education—and a life—is to express your opinions, to tell the world what you think. All day long, they text, they tweet, they post updates on their Facebook pages—all centered on them.”

While on one hand, communication is important, my observations of this group of students found them always trying to talk, always trying to be the center of attention, but when someone else was called on, they could not control themselves.  They could not sit and listen to their peers.  Some of this may be due to their age, they are in middle school, they have more energy, they don’t like to sit still. Even after only about five minutes, these students could NOT physically control themselves from speaking.

When our facilitator asked for a volunteer during camp, almost every hand in the room shot up, the students cheered for the student who ended up being chosen, and immediately, students asked the undergrad why THEY had not been chosen.  You could say that the opposite would be a pain-no hands, no volunteers, but it seems the balance is gone in kids.  Another student even went so far as to continually yell, “hey, hey, hey” and when he was not chosen, he turned to his peer and said, “I had my hand up, what’s the big deal?”

The New Yorker article said, “American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten per cent a year.) They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority.” Why is this even an issue? When did parents stop parenting in the U.S.?”

The New Yorker also shared, “the French believe ignoring children is good for them. “French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them,” she writes. “To the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration.” One mother, Martine, tells Druckerman that she always waited five minutes before picking up her infant daughter when she cried. While Druckerman and Martine are talking, in Martine’s suburban home, the daughter, now three, is baking cupcakes by herself.” I don’t know how I feel about baking cupcakes, but I do know that growing up, I was left to my own devices, engaging in the act of play. I would get frustrated but I knew I couldn’t ask my parents for the quick answer, I had to work on it myself before I broke down, admitted defeat, and asked for help.  Today, it seems to be backwards.  Instead of even trying, kids just give up because they know someone will help them out.

Out at restaurants is another great example of our child centered culture. I grew up with the mindset and discipline that going out was a privilege and children were meant to be seen and not heard unless you needed help cutting your food.  Today, I see kids dominating meals outside the home.  Parents no long her the opportunity to chat, have an adult conversation, or exist as an adult for even a few moments.  While I admit that it’s good to engage your kids in conversation and an excellent way to communicate with them, is there a reason that every second of every day is dominated by a child?  Parents have become so critical of other parents, that they turn them into the authorities if they witness a child receiving a spanking from their own parent in a grocery store.  If a child misbehaves in school, parents now rush to the aide of the child instead of letting the school do its’ job.  When did this backwards culture creep into everyday life?

I encourage you to help your students learn the art of listening and hone your own listening skills.  As your new students flock to your office, fill your classrooms, and you answer their endless questions via email, it’s sometimes easy to get annoyed or be brusque in the defense of not having enough time.  Besides teaching them the content, we have become responsible for teaching them so many other things and now I would like to add listening to the list.

As I observe, facilitate, teach, and work with students in my every day life, I find it to be one of the most rewarding and most frustrating ventures I choose to undertake.  As a new faculty, how can we help our students learn the art of listening, learn to be more patient, be less concerned about being in the spotlight, and understand that the world may not always revolve around them?

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2 thoughts on “The art of listening-incoming & returning students

  1. […] source In exactly one week over 5000 freshman will move into our quiet college town and the beauty of summer will be gone for another 365 days. I look forward to new ……/the-art-of-listening-incoming-ret… […]

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