Teaching: On Appreciation


May 26, 2010

At the end of every semester I host a potluck instead of a Final Exam, and I ask students to bring a dish that connects them to someone they consider to be family, and tell the story of this family member. We share food and talk about what it means to nurture each other with home-cooked food.

After we each have a plate of deliciousness, they then come up one at a time, choose one of their classmates to thank, and both students stand in front of the room for the “appreciation.”  We witness this gratitude–sometimes it is for smiling at them on the first day of class, other times it is for years of friendship, more often it is for getting them through a group project.

Once, one student was thanked several times for sharing his conservative perspectives, while another was thanked multiply for being so open about being gay. Then, they both thanked the class for making them feel safe about sharing things they don’t normally feel comfortable expressing.

This year, one student wrote another a poem to thank her for the cupcakes she brought to class every week, and to remind her that her ethnic mix was all good–that she could embrace all of who she was, including the ethnicity she’d felt excluded from before. He said he would be her first friend from that group. He said all this in one beautiful poem.

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