Photograph by Jamie Betts

The lessons of longevity

September 17, 2021

Faculty

Accounting professor Joe Hoyle recently celebrated 50 years of teaching, 42 of which have been at Richmond. One pedagogical technique he often uses is the Socratic method, so we turned the tables and asked him to answer questions from some former students.

Can you share the story behind one of your favorite pictures on your office wall?
—Cathy Shi, ’17

Hundreds, if not thousands, of photos, paintings, drawings, and the like cover every square inch of my office walls. I have an emotional attachment to them all. Most make me laugh or at least smile. I believe people need more positive emotions.

However, one magazine photo is my favorite. About 35 years ago, the movie The Paper Chase changed my teaching life. Professor Kingsfield teaches a first-year law class at Harvard using a very demanding Socratic method. The students hate him at first because he forces them to learn deeply rather than memorize. By the end of the semester, they appreciate what he is trying to accomplish. When I left the movie theater that evening, Professor Kingsfield had become my role model.

I taped a photo of the marvelous actor John Houseman playing Professor Kingsfield on my office door. That photo is the last thing I look at before I go to class every day. It reminds me of the importance of my job and the time that I spend with my students.

If you could co-teach with a member of the Beatles, which one would you teach with and why?
—Joe Nelson, ’11

My wife of 51 years has always had a bit of a crush on Paul McCartney. She would be perturbed if I did not select him.

I first saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. I last saw Paul in concert in 2019. What struck me most was that he seemed as enthusiastic and energetic at 77 as he did at 22. He was singing some of the same songs and appeared just as delighted to be there as when he was young. I guess he is another one of my role models.

 

In my classes, I often use a three-word motto: “Figure it out.”

What has been the most challenging teaching experience over your tenure?
—Jaclyn Radonis Wood, ’00

I teach at a wonderful university, and virtually all of my students really want to learn. The number of problems I encounter is minuscule.

My students rarely seem upset with me. Instead, they talk about problems with parents, their love life, roommates, mental illness, and the like. That can be incredibly sad. They are bright young people who are struggling, and often, viable solutions are not easily available.

Teaching accounting is always easy. Helping a student who is suffering is tough. Being a college student is never easy. The challenges are everywhere.

As you think about the next generation of accountants and auditors, what skills will be most critical for their success?
—Erin Shannon, ’99

The purpose of college is to help form the foundation for a life that is thoughtful and satisfying and makes the world a better place. Whether a person becomes an accountant or a bus driver, I want my students to think beyond themselves. Students need to read deeply, have thoughtful conversations, look at a world beyond their own boundaries, and examine their own biases.

In my classes, I often use a three-word motto: “Figure it out.” A desire to learn how to look at a problem and figure it out is the skill that was most critical 50 years ago and is today, regardless of a student’s major.

 

From the first day I walked into class as the teacher, I have wanted to help my students become better human beings.

Is there something that intrinsically motivates you to impact so many students’ lives?
—Russ Higgins, ’06

When I went to college, I did not think my professors truly cared about me as a human being. I resented that then and now. From the first day I walked into class as the teacher, I have wanted to help my students become better human beings. We need more teachers who want students to leave class every day as more knowledgeable people who will become better thinkers and more thoughtful members of society.

Teachers can save the world, and I very much appreciate the opportunity to call myself one.

If, as predicted, accounting will be handled mostly by algorithms in the future, should robots pay humans the taxes for lost jobs?
—Olga Sokolova, ’17

With the growth of artificial intelligence, I believe the world might well face a shortage of jobs before too long. I love the recent entrepreneurial spirit that is growing, seemingly across the planet. Where possible, I think human beings were meant to start and grow their own businesses, to be their own bosses, to manage their own destinies.

I hope algorithms never get in the way of the human spirit. Hopefully, continuing entrepreneurial growth will provide adequate tax revenues so that robots do not have to learn how to complete a 1040 form. You have always been a teacher who connects with students.

How have you changed your approach to making these connections and staying relevant to students over the years?
—Jeff Hendrey, B’90

I have always tried to find the parts of my subject matter that are interesting. I try to approach learning as the solving of a puzzle. I like to set up complex problems situated on desert islands or faraway planets (“You are on the planet Krypton, and you are asked to be the accountant for a local bookstore ...”).

I do not try to connect with the students by acting like I am 20, but that does not mean that subjects cannot be interesting to both of us. Often, I will send an email to my students and write something like, “Here is what I read in today’s Wall Street Journal. Why would a company do this?”

I love to talk with my students about books I have read and plays I have seen. They are often more open to those conversations than my older friends. In all honesty, I usually enjoy talking with 20-year-old students more than I do talking with 32-year-old or 42-year-old adults.

How do you make your work a passion and not just a job?
—Matt Blanchard, ’95

Teaching is difficult because there is very little positive reinforcement. Students often hope you will get sick and not show up for class. No student comes by to congratulate a teacher on a great class. It can be an emotional challenge.

If I am lucky, three or four times each year, someone from years ago will email me to thank me for something I said or did when they were in college. That helps a lot. A note from a former student reminds me that my work has a purpose and gives me the energy to get up and do what needs to be done.

I often compare college teachers to Johnny Appleseed. They plant a seed not knowing whether they will even be around in a few years to see what results from their efforts.