Year-End Observations from the 2023 Classroom

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Over the past year many publications have explored the COVID 19 pandemic-related “gaps” that educators are seeing in elementary school-aged children who missed out on important opportunities for social and emotional growth as part of in-person classes. As we move forward in the post-COVID era, here are some (unscientific) observations of what I have witnessed with my students during 2023. I’m sharing my experiences in hopes of inspiring us all to think about what we can do with future classes to close the social/emotional gaps among the 18+ year-olds that we teach at America’s colleges:


Students feel overwhelmed. Many students feel alone in their educational journeys in spite of available safety nets and support systems.


Example: my students can meet with an advisor in person or complete the advising process on their own by following carefully written directions and utilizing a virtual assistant. After the enrollment period for 2024 opened I asked one of my classes if anyone was taking the second half of the US history survey with me during the spring semester. Silence. Then I asked if anyone had met with their advisor or utilized the advising app. Fewer than a handful of hands were raised in a class of 20-plus students. When I expressed concern about how many were unprepared for the course selection process a student shared that she was completely overwhelmed by the process. Several students nodded in agreement. Later that day a student from the class stopped by my office to discuss her concern that she is in the wrong major.


Students are isolating themselves from their peers. On any given day, walk into a college-level lecture and the majority of students will be scrolling their social feeds or texting with people who are not in the same room. Especially at commuter-colleges but no doubt also at places with active dorm cultures, students often make little to no effort to get to know their classmates unless we engage them in that practice. 


It has been reaffirmed for me this year numerous times that student resistance to even general conversation with peers in an academic setting is evidence of how much they need that interaction. Case in point: my US history students in a medium-size lecture hall. After splitting them randomly into groups to begin discussion, many sat with their backs to their group members until I told them to face one another for their discussion.


Students are in desperate need of all kinds of support. No doubt there is nothing surprising to anyone about this observation, and the reality is that college-aged students have historically struggled with stress, anxiety and depression in addition to academic challenges. The COVID-19 Pandemic only exacerbated a problem that already existed. Encouraging students to take advantage of on-campus counseling support is critical, but I would further suggest that bringing academic support measures into the classroom from the first day of school can help alleviate some of the stress before it builds to a breaking point. I’m excited to be part of a pilot program at my college in which we will embed a peer tutor into my US history classes. I look forward to writing more about this experience in future blogs.


What challenges are you anticipating as we begin a new calendar year? How can we, the Macmillan Community, best support our colleagues through these and other challenges? Please share by commenting below or email me at


Happy New Year! 


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About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.