HELPING STUDENTS GET INTO THE RIGHT MOOD FOR LEARNING



If you have followed this blog for long, you know that I email my students occasionally over the summer to help them get into a good mood for a great semester.   I teach accounting.   A lot of my students start out with terrible attitudes.  That misery can be contagious.  

“This is going to be so boring.”
“I’m going to hate this.”
“This stuff is utterly useless.” 
“I’d rather be eaten slowly by ants than take this course.”  

Great teaching is impossible if students cling to that type of attitude.  I simply cannot ignore the negative assumptions running through my students’ heads.  I know they are there.  Although my summer emails have a lot of different goals, a main one is just helping the students develop a proper attitude about the upcoming course. 

Here is an email that I sent out to my fall students today (actually about 20 minutes ago).


To:   Accounting Students (for the fall semester)

From:   JH

I read a lot.   It helps keep me from getting too old too fast.   Occasionally, I read something that I want to share with my students (you).   It could be about school or business or life or learning or corn flakes or whatever.   Usually, I simply think, “Wow, this might help some of my students in some interesting way.”  After 47 years of working with people exactly your age, I’d like to think I have some knowledge of what might be beneficial.  

The words that caught my attention this morning came from Samuel Goldwyn.   In case you don’t know the name, this bio sentence comes from Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge):   “He was most well known for being the founding contributor and executive of several motion picture studios in Hollywood.”  In other words, he produced a lot of great movies.

Here is the quote that got me thinking this morning.  I liked it because I could not agree more.   
         “No person who is enthusiastic about his work has anything to fear from life.”

Our class begins in exactly 50 days (not that I’m counting).  As far as I’m concerned, your “work” is this class and learning as much as possible.  I receive questions frequently from students asking how to do well.  One important piece of advice is to be enthusiastic.   By that, I simply mean that you should walk in the first day with a positive attitude, one approaching excitement.  You want to have a positive feeling about the class, the material, and yourself.   “This is going to be a great experience and I am going to do my best.”  That’s it.  At the start of every class, I’ll gladly settle for a little enthusiasm like that.  Write it on the cover of your notebook.   

I have no interest in watching you look miserable.  That brings me no delight.  I don’t care about your smarts.  I don’t care about your GPA or anything like that.  However, I will simply be delighted if you bring some enthusiasm with you on August 27.  Don’t try to impress me by seeing how bored you can look.  

I cannot guarantee an A.   Things don’t work that way.   I can guarantee that if you have enthusiasm, you should be able to maximize your grade.  And, you WILL maximize your enjoyment.  You will maximize what you learn and understand.   You will feel better about the class and about the material and about yourself.   A little enthusiasm (I don’t need a lot) invariably leads to nothing but good things.

What do I mean by enthusiasm?  That is simple.  Here are three components.
--Be willing to do what I ask you to do without seeking shortcuts.   If I ask you to work four problems, you can’t just work two and quit.  You can’t just copy someone else’s answer.  The biggest problem that average students have is that they will procrastinate and then have to cut corners.  All they are doing is hoping for a C.  Be more enthusiastic than that.
--Come by my office to ask questions when you are confused.   Being willing to accept confusion is a perfect indication of no enthusiasm.  In class, my response to “I just couldn’t get this to work,” is always, “Why didn’t you come see me?”
--Manage to stay engaged for all 50 minutes of each class session and not just 25 minutes.  Daydreaming for 25 minutes is 100 percent a lack of enthusiasm.

That’s it – enthusiasm in three components.  In return, here’s what I offer.

I promise that I will be enthusiastic.   I will prepare for every single class.   I will not take shortcuts.  I will do my best to make this class fun, interesting, rewarding, challenging, intriguing, and inspiring.   But that is just my half.  Unless you are trying to waste your valuable time, you have to bring your own enthusiasm to the class. 

It is not my responsibility to make you enthusiastic.   Your attitude is your responsibility.   If you simply assume that this course material is “useless,” “hard,” “boring,” and “confusing,” then you are undermining your own attitude and your own enthusiasm and your own enjoyment and your own success.

What do I want you to do between now and August 27?   Work on a positive attitude.   This course can be the greatest class you have ever taken.   But that will NOT happen if you lack enthusiasm.   During the fall semester, I want you to maximize learning, enjoyment, and, of course, your grade.   Those goals do not begin with me.   They begin with you and your ability to get a little excited about the upcoming semester.
**

Okay, blog readers, it is time for you to do a little work.   I’m a big believer that if you want to get better at something, you should dissect it and study its parts.   This email is long and winding.   What all am I trying to accomplish?  Here is your assignment.   Write down 10 specific things that I hope to accomplish with this email – both through the tone and content.   There are a lot of motivational/guidance things going on here – what do you see?  You don’t have to agree with me but I think it is beneficial to take this letter apart sentence by sentence and see what I am trying to do.  

Then, pick out the 2 or 3 things that you like the most and ask yourself how you can do them.   As I have often written on this blog, I am not trying to clone you into being me.   I’m trying to help you think about teaching, learning, and students so you can become a better you.   I think identifying 10 things I’m trying to accomplish in this email is a good exercise.  Then, picking 2 or 3 that appeal to you especially and consider how you can convey that same message to your students.



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