I read recently an opinion column that stated the obvious: Americans have become very angry people. And, it is not just the recent election. For months (well, more like years), news reports have conveyed an ongoing story: People across this country are angry and upset for one reason or another. I am not here to judge whether such feelings are justified. That is not my point. I just find the current level of anger especially sad since we are not involved in a world war that is killing millions or trying to live through the horrors of the Great Depression or having to watch our children perish with the bubonic plague or living with rampant inflation that makes our money worthless before we can spend it.
I think one reason for such universal anger is that most people simply don’t feel appreciated. That is a basic human need that we tend to overlook in our daily lives. People need to feel that their efforts have been noticed. If they don’t get an occasional pat on the back, it is easy to be upset.
So, during this Thanksgiving season, I decided to do something I had never done before. If you have read this teaching blog for long, you know that I send out a lot of messages to my students. Here is the one that I emailed to them this morning. I had never before written to students like this. It will not do any harm and maybe it will make a small difference in how they look at themselves as students. Maybe it will help their self-image and their confidence. That is always beneficial.
--I wanted my students to realize that I really had seen their efforts.
--I wanted my students to understand how much I appreciated them (even though I tend to fuss a lot when they seem to be lazy).
--I wanted to give them a genuine pat on the back.
--And, I wanted them to become a bit more aware and pass along that same message to another person. The problem is not solved simply by receiving a pat on the back. You must also be willing to give a pat on the back.
Here’s the email I sent to my students on this day before Thanksgiving.
(1) – I received a note yesterday from a student who was in my class 10-12 years ago and now lives thousands of miles away. He said that he wanted to thank me – not for teaching him accounting but rather: “You helped me appreciate the tremendous value of showing up to class every day ready to engage.” I liked that comment a lot because it focused on two things that I hope to pass along to all my students: (1) you’ve got to prepare fully and consistently or your education quickly becomes no more than training for a position as a stenographer and (2) once the class/job starts you have to be ambitious, you’ve got to engage—you cannot succeed by hiding in the shadows.
(2) – Because it is Thanksgiving and because I received a word of thanks myself, I have decided that I want to pass along a word of thanks to you folks – my 53 accounting students for the fall of 2016. As you can imagine, over the last four and half decades I have had great classes and bad classes and everything in-between. I can truly say that your class this semester has been excellent. Okay, I don’t think the group has any true accounting geniuses (every so often I get one of those) but the percentage of students who have done well this semester has been extraordinarily high. Usually, I’m ecstatic if half of my students are truly ready, willing, and able to participate in class each day. In your class, it has almost always been at least 70-80 percent. When a teacher walks into class and 70-80 percent of the students are prepared and willing to think, talk, and try, teaching is both the easiest and the most fun job in the world. So, thanks for a great semester (at least so far). Your willingness to show up to class every day ready to engage has made this a lot of fun for me.
(3) – I received a word of thanks from a student. I passed along a word of thanks to you. Why not keep the ball rolling? Think of a teacher (kindergarten, English professor, high school biology or the like) who was really helpful to you (you cannot do me – I’ve already received my note of thanks for this Thanksgiving). Then, write them a note or email and thank them. It doesn’t have to be more than a couple of sentences. Just tell them that you still realize how much they helped you to become the person you are today. Put it in your own words – tell them what their teaching meant to you. My bet is that you will make that teacher's day. It will only take you a couple of minutes and, trust me, it will make your teacher very happy. And, if that teacher truly helped you, he or she deserves a word of thanks. Every person appreciates a pat on the back now and then. I won’t make this a class assignment. You should do it because YOU want to do it and because YOU have the initiative to get it done.
Then, next week, take 3 minutes to come by my office and tell me who you thanked and why. If you don’t show up, I’ll assume your teachers have all been so bad that you could not think of a single person who deserved one word of thanks. So, do it!!
Have a great Thanksgiving!!
Okay, now it is your turn. Although I am nearly 70, last year I wrote three of my high school teachers and told them how very much their work had influenced my life. I only wished I had done it many, many years earlier when more of my teachers were still alive. Isn’t it time for you to pass along a pat on the back to one of your teachers?
And, as I said to my students: Happy Thanksgiving!!