I love this time of year in B206. Each November, I assign an "Attitude of Gratitude" letter to my English classes. I try to impress upon my students that we tend to take a lot of things and people for granted in our lives. We watch a couple of thought-provoking videos about the power of gratitude. (Did you know that the #1 contributing factor to happiness is how much gratitude you express?) We brainstorm about what about and who to write to. ("Mrs. Connor, is it is OK if I do more than one letter?")
Today, their rough drafts were due. I read each letter, commenting on their work, making suggestions. I love that by this time of the school year, my students feel close enough to me to share personal stories and struggles with me. Their letters were great. I am always pushing my students to "support their claims with evidence," and I'm happy to report that even in these thank-you letters, my students' writing is rich with details and illustrations, from heart-warming stories of cookies with Grandma to heart-wrenching letters thanking mentors for being "the father I never had." My Honors English 11 students are reading Jeannette Walls' stunning memoir The Glass Castle, so their appreciation radar is beyond sensitive right now. After reading about the serious neglect and poverty of the Walls children, my students have voiced a heightened awareness of how truly fortunate they are.
The next step is for my students to polish their letters and have them ready for delivery over Thanksgiving break. I tell them that they can blame any awkward moments of "Uh...I wrote you this letter" on their crazy English teacher who made them write a thank you letter. Some students mail their letters, some hand-deliver them, and one or two writers over the years have made a trip to the cemetery to read their letters at the gravesides of loved ones.
When they return from break, I ask them to write a journal reflection about their experience -- how did it feel to express gratitude? how did the recipient of their letter respond? how did this assignment change their outlook on life?
Maybe it's not on the Keystone Exam for English, but I find this assignment to have a lot of merit and meaning in the lives of my students. Many of them said something along the lines of, "I really should not have waited until now to tell you this..." or "I know this is for an assignment, but I really mean everything I wrote in this letter. I am who I am today because of you." If I can help my students appreciate those in their lives who love them and who make sacrifices for them -- then I have done my small part in making this world a better place.
And for that, I am truly thankful.