Monday, October 13, 2014


In my previous blog posting, I talked about motivation – are you a football coach or a scout leader?   I received several emails asking how I motivate students under either of those approaches.   Well, no motivational style works perfectly on every occasion but I think you need to (a) really communicate clearly to your students at all times and (b) sell the course to them.    Every course and every friend and every club is demanding every minute of a student’s time.   Why should they pick your course to focus their attentions?   I think that is where communication becomes vital and I think that communication has to have some element of marketing in it.   If you believe in the importance of your course, then you need to help them understand what needs to be done.

Consequently, here is an email that I sent to my students today.

To:   Accounting Students

From:   JH

At the beginning of the semester, I made the comment that a successful class is like a dance that is well done.   If I do half of the work and you do half of the work, then we can accomplish great things.   But if either of us does less than half of the work, then the dance is never going to go very well no matter how much the other party is working.      

You have every right to assess whether I (or any other teacher) is doing half of the work.   If not, you should complain.

And, in the same manner, I periodically assess how you are doing.   We are on fall break.   It is a good time for an assessment.   Our second test is in just a few days.   I know how you did on the first test.   I’m really interested now in where you are heading on our second test.

My guess is that you view this class as a class—maybe a little more important or a little less important than others, but really nothing different than a class.

I view this class as an opportunity.   It is one where you can add some knowledge to your brain that might prove helpful one day.   It is an opportunity that might make you a bit sharper at some time in the future, more astute, a better decision-maker, a wiser and more successful person.

So, over the last couple of days, I have gone over the seating chart, person by person assessing whether you are making good use of this opportunity.    Are you doing your half of the dance?   Truthfully, as a whole, I am pretty well pleased.   No group is perfect but a number of you are clearly doing your half.   In general, I have few complaints.   Unfortunately, we live in a specific world and not in a general world.

Here’s how I kind of assess students when I am thinking about each one of you.

--Enthusiasm.   There is little that is worse in teaching than to walk in to a classroom and have students who clearly would prefer physical torture over your class.   The body language tells it all:   “I hate this and I am going to hate it no matter what you try to do.”   The view from my perspective can sometimes be disheartening.   Fortunately, most students give the teacher the benefit of the doubt and that is more than fair.

--Consistency.   One of the hardest things for any student to do is to be ready to go each and every day.   It is the rare A+ student who walks in every day ready for the debate.  Many students believe that being prepared 2 days out of 3 is darn good but that’s just a 66 percent average and that’s a D.

--Interest.   Some students take notes like they are majoring in stenography.   They have no interest in the material but they are going to copy it down word for word so they cram it into their brains.   Other students actually express an interest in what we are discussing.   You can just see it in their faces.   I guess they are less judgmental.   They step back and try to figure out why the material might be interesting or, at least, important.   That doesn’t mean they are going to major in it.   They just try to look beyond the curtain to see what might be interesting to know.   College material is not an obstacle course to be survived but rather an adventure in learning.

--Ambition:   I have said before and I’ll probably say again, I think the world needs more ambitious people and that should start with young people like you folks.   Too many people settle for average/mediocre from the time they are young until the day they die.   I am always interested in seeing who truly wants to do well just because they want to do well.   Anyone can do well if they have some external force applying motivational pressure.   It is only the chosen few who have the “fire in their bellies” that enables them to motivate themselves just because they want to be winners.

--Preparation, Level One:   Okay, I give out daily sheets with questions.   Many of those questions really come directly from the assigned reading.   I am always interested in seeing how many students are at least willing to go to the trouble to read the text and answer those questions.   There is really no thinking involved.  It is just a matter of being persistent enough to locate the material in the book.   I am always ready to pull out my hair (?) when a student can’t answer a question that should have taken 5 minutes to find.

--Preparation, Level Two:   This always shows the students who probably should think about becoming a major.   It is all about taking material and going beyond just the basics.   How does the answer to one question lead you to the answer to a second, much more difficult question?   In many ways, that is the essence of this course.   Can you take basic material and use it to answer new and more challenging questions?   That is the one aspect of this course that takes an entire semester to develop.   If we do it right, that is the skill that will become stronger and stronger over the next weeks.

I could assess students on other things but this, to me, is pretty much what education is all about:   enthusiasm, consistency, interest, ambition, basic preparation (Level One), and more in depth preparation (Level Two).   Give me those and we’ll have a dance that even Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers couldn’t have beaten.

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