As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, here’s a story that shows what teachers really appreciate for a thank you, at the end of the year. And while teachers love the gifts, here’s something else they really like as well, perhaps even more than what you can buy.
Back in 1953, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt lobbied Congress to create a National Teacher Appreciation Day. In 1984, the National Parent Teacher Association moved it from March to May, and gave teachers a well-deserved week of appreciation. And there are plenty of sites where you can buy a teacher a gift; don’t forget to buy local too!
But here’s something teachers really, really love: an “A” game in the classroom and on assignments from their students.
We know our students are under incredible pressures, academic and often athletic, and sometimes family troubles. And yes, students at the small private religious LaGrange College have just as many of these challenges as anyone else in this country, as you’ll see in this story.
I always push my students to do more than just take tests and write papers. I’m part teacher and part coach, getting those who take my classes to engage in academic competitions, essay contests, presenting at conferences…even those for professors and graduate students! Students engage in service learning, taking class lessons on statistics and research and put them into projects for politicians from both sides of the political aisle, as well as non-profit groups.
We’ve had students present at the Georgia Capitol to legislators in the past. This year, my students were accepted to the Council on Undergraduate Research’s National “Posters on the Hill,” where they presented on policy, political and economic factors associated with COVID-19 death rates. The night before that event, one student’s uncle was shot, defending a small child. The next day, our student showed up to the virtual event. “I talked to mom. He’s going to pull through. And I’m ready to present,” she announced as my jaw dropped.
My comparative politics students presented on factors behind pandemic political crackdowns, analyzing the types of governments we’ve been covering, looking for correlations with this modern-day authoritarianism, to the well-respected human rights group Freedom House. Coordinating the 20+ student presentation to their researcher in Milan, Italy was a challenge, but the students got through it okay. And in my other classes, students are doubling their paper-length, trying out new statistical tests, editing their drafts, and enthusiastically participating in the simulator (some staying well after class, just to coordinate with me and each other).
By the way, participation in conferences and competitions isn’t even for a grade. They already got those last year for their work. These students are doing it because they’ve heard me tell success stories of our graduates, and how such participation and extra work helped them get into law school and graduate school as well as good jobs. And that passion students show gets put into my letters of recommendation, which are one of my favorite parts of being a professor.
I think I speak for most teachers when I say that’s what we really want, even more than an apple or gift card. We’re passionate about our topics and our research. We love it when the students show they are just as enthusiastic as we are. And these are the gifts that keep us going, and last a lot longer, and are more meaningful, than anything one can buy. So please get a gift for a teacher. But encourage your students to show an extra level of excitement in the classroom too!
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.