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May 04, 2013


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1) The cynical take- students do this sort of thing with professors whom they think they can get some special advantage from by kissing up to.

2) The more hopeful take- this sort of thing is often not directed so much at the normal teaching activity, but at other forms of help- writing letters of recommendation or making phone call, going over writing assignments or work (especially not for the professor's class) carefully, spending extra or unusual amounts of time meeting with students to explain difficult material, other advising type activities, and so on.

1 and 2 perhaps have some over-lap, and I don't doubt that there is some of 1) going on, but I suspect it's mostly 2). (I don't think I've ever received a card, but I have received a few nice emails. I probably prefer those to cards. I hope these have all been for 2) reasons, and not for 1)! )

Orin Kerr

I don't think I have heard of any law teachers receiving this sort of expressed gratitude either from when I was a student or during the 12 years I have been a professor. But then I was a student and have been a professor only at schools with very large classes; it may be that this happens more often at smaller schools.

Eric Muller

Matt, to be clear, I'm talking about end-of-semester appreciation for teachers. I'm not talking about thank-you notes for seriously above-and-beyond-the-call individual stuff.


Hi Eric,
Yes- it's just that when ever I've received such messages (via email) they have usually been at the end of the semester, when such things are on people's minds. (I am also not sure I'd call the things I mentioned "above-and-beyond"- the seem like a normal part of a professor's work to me!) But, actual physical cards do seem unusual to me, and in a way annoying- I feel bad about throwing such things away, but don't really want to keep them, either.

Ralph D. Clifford

I've been at this game in one form or another for almost 30 years. Some years I get lots of thank you notes, etc. and other years I get none. I have never been able to figure out a pattern.

The best thank yous I have gotten, though, have always been years later when an former student gets back in touch to thank you for something.


I also am intrigued by the rituals that attend the last class of the semester, as I have found they vary to some extent from school to school - at the school where I started teaching, it was the norm that the class as a whole would give a momento of some sort to the professor - often very thoughtful and touching ones; at other schools, applause at the end of the semester was standard; and yet other places I have taught, I close my book at the end of the last class and file out of the classroom along with the students as if it a game had just finished and the stadium was emptying ... (I'm obviously assuming that the varied reaction isn't based on wildly different levels of performance on my part, and my teaching evals for each of the above examples are pretty much the same) ...

Jeffrey Harrison

I guess you mean to distinguish high evaluations from actual expressions at the end of the semester. I think we could all agree that your observations about thank yous also applies to evaluations since there is evidently no correlation between student learning and evaluations. What is interesting about the actually expressions is sometimes (not often) they are anonymous -- a bottle of wine at the door with just a "thanks for a great semester." I cannot explain it but I think some teachers seem to connect better with students on a personal level. Some of the cynical views have already been expressed but here are some others. Seem to care (even if you do not), seeming to be working hard for them, telling how difficult some concepts are (that actually are not), and then making it so simple they all feel they have achieved something. For me, at least, when it happens (also not often) it is usually in a large class.

Jeff Parness

I agree with Ralph-the most satisfying thanks come some years laters, at bar meetings, CLE talks and the like. I once heard it opined that class evaluations are best done (or perhaps should be redone)3-5 years after graduation.

alta charo

Well, on a tangential note, I confess to feeling somewhat heartsick to read that handwritten notes can be disfavored. I do appreciate that electronic communication is more environmentally sound, but as a hopeless devotee of Miss Manners, I can't help but view handwritten notes as more personal. Especially these days, handwritten notes are special and when I receive one (from anyone, not necessarily a student) it feels very good. But maybe all my own handwritten thank you cards for gifts and dinner parties and such are causing more distress than pleasure to the recipients. Sigh.


Interesting, I am a new prof and I've received quite a few thank you cards and I thought it was quite odd - I don't remember anyone doing this when I went to law school. I am younger and female and I get a lot of students in my office who want to talk about balance and other work-life / mentor type issues, I was thinking maybe it is that sort of thing which leads to the notes?

anon prof

I've never seen a hint of cynical motive behind gestures of gratitude. When I receive notes or messages from individuals, it is after grades have been released (and they have come from the entire spectrum of grades). At times, the entire class has presented a collective gift based on some hypo I used in class. But it varies from year to year, class to class. I recently told my 1L's that classes are like wines--every year is different.

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