Right now, you’re high on the smell of new Expo markers and feeling hopeful that your new planner is going to bring a level of peace and productivity that you’ve never experienced. Your students, with fresh haircuts and a commitment to making all their 8 am classes, are feeling the same.
How can you make the honeymoon phase last? Here are 5 ideas:
- At the end of writing assignments, add the words “I can’t wait to read what you have to say!” Maybe it’s only true for some students, but it will help each of them see themselves as writers with something important to say–which will help them develop as writers and will actually get them to produce better writing.
- After the second major assignment (second test, second paper, second presentation) of the course, look at your gradebook to see who scored a letter grade or higher on the second assignment compared to the first. Send them an email saying that you are pleased with their improvement. This will take less than 10 minutes of your time, total, but you’ll encourage students who are trying hard and seeing their hard work pay off.
- After each major assignment, email the highest scoring student in the class and let them know that they earned the highest grade. Tell them that you are impressed with them and are glad they are your class.
- Every week or two (I set aside time most Fridays), look at your gradebook. Who has missed two assignments in a row? Email them and ask what’s going on. You’re not a counselor, but you can remind them of the services available through the university–like the writing center, tutoring, the counseling center, or the food pantry.
- Keep a pile of blank notecards and beautiful stamps at your desk. (Bonus points if you buy them the notecards from a local artist, a woman, an artist of color, or an artists with a disability. Double bonus points if the images on the cards speak to the concerns of your course.) When a student writes with a sob story, take it seriously. Their lives are hard. Many of them don’t have much support. Some of them are here against the wishes of their family. They are often emailing you to ask for an extension on work or forgiveness for turning something in late. Handle that in email, but also send a note. Here is the kind of language I use: I start with a simple “Just wanted you to know that I am thinking about you during this difficult time” and then use something like this:
- for a death in the family: I hope that time spent with your friends and family will bring some comfort as you mourn the loss of and celebrate the life of your grandma.
- for a difficult pregnancy, childbirth, or post-partem recovery: I hope that you are getting the support and care you need and that you and baby are doing well.
- for just about any personal or family health emergency: I hope that you are getting the care you need from your doctor and the support you need from your community.
Then, a closer like, “Please know that your professors care about your success and are rooting for you.”
Above, Dancers of the Third Age, an image on a notecard from Syracuse Cultural Workers. Check them out for beautiful cards that support important causes.
What are your strategies for keeping morale up?