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Showing appreciation for K-12 teachers is a thing. Professor appreciation? Not so much. Virginia Tech is trying to change that, one letter at a time.
The details: Since 2010, the university’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has allowed students to submit personalized notes of appreciation for their professors via an online form. The center reviews these notes, incorporates them into formal letters and then delivers those letters to professors at the end of each academic term.
Students can sign their names or submit notes anonymously. Parents and alumni may submit notes, as well.
The letter submission form is open all year, but the center begins advertising it heavily to students at the close of each semester. The center delivers between 1,000 and 1,200 letters annually.
Focus on gratitude: Thank-a-Teacher and Thank-an-Adviser, as Virginia Tech calls the student-to-faculty initiative and a related one for advisers, are some of the center’s favorites programs, says Kim Filer, associate vice provost for teaching and learning and center director. Why? In part because they emphasize gratitude.
“Faculty enjoy and appreciate receiving the messages, and I believe developing a culture of gratitude has positive impacts on the teaching and learning environment on campus.”
Filer shares just a few notes of appreciation she’s received from faculty members about the program:
- “Thank you very much for passing along this message. I'm humbled to have received this note of appreciation.”
- “Thanks for creating a place for students to share these encouraging words.”
- “Thank you for forwarding the student’s note and also for the recognition from the CETL. I feel honored. I am happy to go that extra mile to make students enjoy [their learning].”
The program may also benefit students. There’s a growing body of research linking positive psychology concepts to student success. This includes the concept of gratitude. One peer-reviewed study from 2022, for example, found that a disposition toward gratitude is associated with higher levels of academic engagement and lower levels of burnout in college students.
One professor’s experience: Jadrian Wooten, a collegiate associate professor of economics who just completed his first year teaching at Virginia Tech, says that he’d seen internal announcements for the Thank-a-Teacher program but didn’t think students actually participated in it. In January, however, following his first semester on campus, he received several student notes via the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
“They were all very kind, supportive notes welcoming me to Blacksburg [Va.] and thanking me for a great semester,” Wooten recalls. “It was a really validating experience as a new faculty member here.”
Wooten shares one anonymous student note he received via the program:
Thank you Professor Wooten for a great semester in Econ 2005. This class is truly my favorite one because of how engaging and fun you make it. Some of the material can be confusing but you provide many resources and opportunities to do well in this class. Thank you so much!
On self-reflection: Asked how he thinks Thank-a-Teacher contributes to student success, Wooten muses, “I guess it fits nicely with the value of self-reflection. The call for notes usually [goes] out at the end of the term, and professors don't receive them until later. It’s a really small way for students in large classes to build even a small connection with their faculty members.”