Start Now to Build Interest

Final Invitation:   If you are attending the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association this summer in Chicago, I will be participating in two different panel presentations on teaching on Monday, August 10.  One is at 2 p.m. and the other is at 4 p.m.   I would love to have everyone there as several of us chat about the challenges of becoming a better classroom teacher.  I think both presentations will be great fun.   I will be around for the entire conference so don’t hesitate to grab me if you have a question or a suggestion.

Please send an email to if you would like for me to alert you whenever I post a new essay on this blog.

If you have read my blog over the years, you already know that I believe communication between teacher and student is one of the most important aspects of good teaching.   You can increase both student enthusiasm and comprehension by careful communication.   You can avoid unnecessary battles and you can get your students ready for the coming semester before they even see your face.

I want my students to be convinced before they walk in on the first day that my class is a serious one but one that has great rewards.   If students are not convinced of the rewards, it is hard for them to put in the work that is necessary for success.

Here is the bigger part of an email that I just sent to my 46 students who are signed up for my Introduction to Financial Accounting course in the fall.   (I left out here some mundane class information about textbooks and the like.)   Read what I wrote to my students (almost all of whom are sophomores along with a few freshmen).   What am I trying to accomplish?   Figure it out and then do something similar yourself.

July 27, 2015

To:   Accounting 201 Students (for Fall Semester)

From:   JH

Back on April 23, I emailed you (and, for those of you who added the class after that date, I have already forwarded you a copy of that initial email).   In that email, I indicated that I would start sending you information about the class around August 1.    Since our first class is just four weeks from today (and since I just arrived home from Alaska), this is probably a good time to get started.   I will email you a few more emails over the next couple of days to help get us all ready for 8/24.

My goal in these emails is simple.   I want you to walk into class on the first day with some interest and enthusiasm.   I ask relatively little from you:   3-5 hours of work each week outside of class, some interest, and some enthusiasm.   That’s it.  You do that and I’ll make sure you have an absolutely great semester.   On the last day of class (December 4), I want you to walk out of the classroom and say “I never knew I could think so deeply.   I never knew I could learn so much.   I never knew I could work so hard.   And, it really was fun.”   Nothing would please me more than for you to say that this is the best college class you’ve ever taken.   If we work together, that’s a goal we can achieve.

For me, that’s what every college class should feel like.   In even simpler terms, I want to help you grow significantly over our next few months together.   And, surely, that is a goal that you would love to achieve.  This is your education.   The only person who is going to benefit from this work is YOU.   In most cases, college is your last formal education and will have to do you for the rest of your life.   Try to make every class a great experience.   Don’t be laid back.   Get excited about all that knowledge you can cram into your head.   You never know what might become very useful later on in life.   I like students who are excited about their own learning.   I am always put off by students who claim with some pride “I already know everything I am ever going to need to know for the rest of my life.   No thanks.   I really don’t need any more knowledge at all for the next 80 years.   It is just not worth my effort.”  Well, la de da.  

Okay, here is the real reason for this email.   I want to introduce you to Financial Accounting.   You’ll do better in four weeks if this introduction bounces around in your head a little in the meantime.

Let’s assume that a rich aunt leaves you $25,000 in her will with the stipulation that you must invest the money in the ownership shares of one business.   With that purchase, you will become one of the owners of the business you choose.   After three years, you can sell these shares of stock and you then get to keep all the money.   So, you are really in favor of making a good decision that will grow in value. 

You consume a lot of soft drinks so you decide to study two well-known companies:   The Coca-Cola Company and Pepsico.   You could buy ownership shares on the New York Stock Exchange of one or of the other and, hopefully, in three years they will have gone up in value so that they will be worth a lot more than $25,000.   We will discuss all of this stuff a lot more in detail over the first couple of weeks of class.   At present, I just want to give you a feel for Financial Accounting.  Information without a test.

You could make the decision about which company to invest in based on taste (“I like Coke better than Pepsi so I’ll buy shares of Coke”) or based on the color of the can (“Love those Pepsi cans so I’ll buy shares of Pepsi.”) or based on their television ads (“I laugh at those Coke polar bears so I should buy shares of Coca-Cola.”).   Probably not surprisingly, few very successful investors (the Warren Buffetts of the world) pay much attention to taste or the color of a can when investing big chunks of their own money.   So, what do they look at to help them make those decisions?

As my Financial Accounting textbook will tell you, this course is all about conveying understandable financial information so that decision-makers can make good decisions about an organization (most likely a business organization, in our Accounting 201 course).    Conveying understandable information.   Yes, it does sound very much like a language.

For example, if I tell you that your cousin just won $1 million in the lottery, then you can probably anticipate that your cousin is going to be much more prosperous in the future.   Why?   Easy – you know what the words “your” “cousin” “just” “won” “$1 million” “in the lottery” mean.  The information has been conveyed successfully from my head into your head through those words.  I said these words to you and you understood them and could then use that knowledge to make good decisions.  Success!!

Notice that this information is called “financial” information because it is stated in terms of money (“$1 million”).

But, here, you don’t care about your cousin.   You are trying to decide what to do with the $25,000 your aunt left you.   Should you invest in Coca-Cola or in PepsiCo?   We could look at this in a couple of ways.

a.   You could ask questions about each of the two companies and then compare the results:   “which company has the most debt?” or “each company is holding a lot of bottles of soft drink, waiting for them to be sold.   How much has the company spent on those soft drinks being held?”  or “how much cash does the company have and where did the company get all of that cash?”   If you are the curious type (my favorite type of student), there are probably an infinite number of questions like these that you could ask with the answers helping you gain the knowledge needed for a wise decision—which company is the best one for you invest your money in.

The purpose of this course is to make sure you know what information is available and what that information means.

b.  You could also examine the information that is made available by the company and decide which company looks better and has the brighter future.   For example, I just looked up The Coca-Cola Company through Google and found out that, on December 31, 2014, the company had accounts receivable with a net realizable value of $4.466 billion.   What in the world does that mean?

Well, as we will find out in a few weeks, that is actually a very easy question to answer once you know the rules that underlie financial accounting.   Knowing the rules helps you understand the information.

Is that important?   Is that interesting?   Is that helpful?   I certainly think so.  It is the type of information that everyone in the business world already knows.   You cannot compete with them without a basic level of knowledge to help you make wise decisions.   Unless you are going to live on a desert island for the rest of your life, then, yes, this is very helpful, important, and (I think) interesting information.  

In many ways, this course is teaching you a new language.   It is like learning Spanish except here no one worries about how you pronounce the words.  

I tell people that I speak three languages:   English, Southern, and Accounting.   I can convey information and understand information in all three.   I think that is a great skill to have and that is what you and I together are going to explore starting in just four weeks.

Okay, let all of that float around in your mind for a couple of days.   I am trying to plant the seeds that we will raise up during the first couple of our class meetings starting on 8/24.

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