As I have said occasionally on this blog, one important step in having a great class is selling the class to the students. If they are not convinced that the sacrifice is worth the reward, even the best teacher will have trouble getting the strong effort from them that is needed. Most college students have had plenty of classes over the years that seemed like a total waste of time. They often start each new semester with that cynical expectation. As early as possible, I want to begin selling them on the vital importance of what we are going to be doing. I want to create that positive mindset. I want them to anticipate something special.
Thus, although my classes do not begin until January 11, I have already sent out an email or two just to introduce myself and start building momentum for the semester. This morning, I sent out the following email message to my future Intermediate Accounting II students. I want the students to understand that I am not looking for them to sit calmly in their seats taking notes. I want them to be very active participants in the learning process. More importantly, I want them to have a completely different view of the learning process. Learning is not a punishment to endure. Learning is exciting. Learning is not an obstacle to fight past. Learning is a journey to be cherished.
One email is never going to change the mindset of all my students but, hopefully, they will now begin to think about the possibility that this class will be different in a positive way. I will have tickled their curiosity. Of course, I still have to make the class different and challenging and unique and interesting and rewarding. But, if I have opened their minds to that possibility, the chances of success for everyone has already gone way up.
To: Intermediate Accounting II Students
Happy Holidays!! Hope you got the GPA from the fall semester that you wanted. The system that I always want to see is: You work very hard and you learn a lot of amazing things and you get very good grades. I trust that worked for you.
About this time each semester, I receive a number of emails from future students who pose a question like this: “I understand your class is challenging and I understand you have different goals than some of the other professors. What can I do now while I have some free time so that I am ready to do my best when the semester begins?”
Good question. In many ways, I don’t care much about the amount of accounting you already know. In my class, C students can (and often do) become A students. With some effort, all of this accounting stuff can be learned. It is neither rocket science nor brain surgery. Although it is nice if you have a 4.0 GPA, it is not a requirement for doing well in Intermediate Accounting II.
What do I want from you? I want a raging curiosity about how the world works. I want enthusiasm and energy. I want a willingness to put in an hour or so of study each and every day. I want to see a genuine excitement about learning and education. I want to see you set priorities rather than simply march ahead in a random fashion. I want you to decide what success means to you and then go full speed ahead to make that success happen. I want you to take control of your life rather than have it take control of you.
I am not nearly as interested in students who seem bored by everything they don’t already know. I am not wild about students who find an endless variety of excuses for not working. I am not excited by students who want to give up the first day they are asked a question that requires them to think rather than spout a memorized litany.
As odd as this might seem, I really do want you to walk in to class each day excited to be there, excited by what you might learn. I want you to learn this material so deeply that you will come to the point where you won’t need me—where you have a true understanding so that you can figure out new and unique problems by yourself. That is what college is supposed to feel like.
If this intrigues you, let me make a suggestion. If you go to the following URL, you will find a speech that I gave a few years ago about what I wanted from my students. Because you are going to be in my class, you might find it “educational.” You can skip the first ten minutes or so. That is just a bunch of introductions. Watch the speech.
At the end, I pose a question and ask the crowd for an answer. How would you answer that question?