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Students take time to thank profs

BY MAX FREUND | DECEMBER 14, 2010 7:10 AM

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Diana Dang took a moment out of her busy finals schedule to say thank-you. And while her note took only a few minutes to write, it meant the world to her teacher.

"I did not know that she appreciated [my teaching] that much, that is also why I treasure it," said English Professor Peter Nazareth, remembering Dang's letter. "I got through to her, and it showed me the power and importance of teaching."

The University of Iowa junior wrote the letter to Nazareth after taking his class on transnational literature. While the note was short, thanking him for providing an opportunity to learn from him, Dang said Nazareth was instrumental in her realizing that English was the right major for her.

"He was really caring about his students," she said. "It really showed when I came to his office hours, I was really able to connect to him."

Dang's letter was sent through the Thank a Teacher program, an initiative that has been at the University of Iowa for more than 10 years. Put on by the Center for Teaching, the program allows students a chance to e-mail comments to a professor that center employees then type out, print, and deliver.

For the first few years of the program, the center averaged 45 responses each semester from students. But Center for Teaching officials decided to reach students through a mass e-mail three years ago. They sent the e-mail, went to lunch, and had 93 responses waiting for them when they returned an hour later.



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They are expecting somewhere around 550 letters this semester, said Jean Florman, the director of the center.

Florman personally compiles all the messages before sending them out, and she said while students have the option to post messages anonymously, rude letters are few and far between.

"It has been extremely heartening and stunning that last year, out of 535, there was one nasty message," she said.

Some students write letters to express how fun a class was and many professors said hearing why can not only be uplifting, but integral to future success.

"It is a great way for me to hear directly from the students about what they have appreciated about my teaching in a more informal setting than course evaluations," said graduate TA Bridget Draxler.

Draxler said she's received around five letters from the center; the most recent was from last semester from junior Aleena Becker.

She wrote, "You have inspired me to explore literature in ways I never imagined," a message that hit home with Draxler's teaching style.

She had her students participate in literary walks, re-enact scenes from Hamlet, and undertake a large project with the Iowa archives at the Main Library.

"I decided to write a thank-you letter to her because she really captivated the classroom with a unique teaching style," Becker said.

And while the messages between students and teachers can be a quick thank you, an inside joke, or a passionate rant, Assistant Professor of chemistry Christopher Cheatum said it is just nice to know he made a difference.

"Particularly when you have a class of 500 students, it can be hard to know you have connected with them," he said. "So it is a tremendous boost to a professor to have a student take the time to write a message like that."


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