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TURES COLUMN: The greatest gift for a teacher is…

Back in 1953, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt lobbied Congress to create a National Teacher Appreciation Day. In 1984, the National Parent Teacher Association moved it from March to May, and gave teachers a well-deserved week of appreciation.  And there are plenty of sites where you can buy a teacher a gift; don’t forget to buy local too!

But here’s something teachers really, really love: an “A” game in the classroom and on assignments from their students.

I always push my students to do more than just take tests and write papers. I’m part teacher and part coach, getting those who take my classes to engage in academic competitions, essay contests, presenting at conferences … even those for professors and graduate students!  Students engage in service learning, taking class lessons on statistics and research and put them into projects for politicians from both sides of the political aisle, as well as non-profit groups.

We’ve had students present at the Georgia Capitol to legislators in the past. This year my students were accepted to the Council on Undergraduate Research’s National “Posters on the Hill,” where they presented on policy, political and economic factors associated with COVID-19 death rates. The night before that event, one student’s uncle was shot, defending a small child. The next day, our student showed up to the virtual event. “I talked to mom. He’s going to pull through. And I’m ready to present,” she announced as my jaw dropped.

My comparative politics students presented on factors behind pandemic political crackdowns, analyzing the types of governments we’ve been covering, looking for correlations with this modern-day authoritarianism, to the well-respected human rights group Freedom House.

By the way, participation in conferences and competitions isn’t even for a grade.  They already got those last year for their work. These students are doing it because they’ve heard me tell success stories of our graduates, and how such participation and extra work helped them get into law school and graduate school as well as good jobs. And that passion students show gets put into my letters of recommendation, which are one of my favorite parts of being a professor.

I think I speak for most teachers when I say that’s what we really want, even more than an apple or gift card. We’re passionate about our topics and our research.  We love it when the students show they are just as enthusiastic as we are. 

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