Thank you notes get class off to a good start

Published 12:33 pm Monday, May 16, 2011

Two weeks ago I observed here that I have experienced many in the present generations of students to be deficient in expressing thanks for things people have done for them. I urged parents, especially, and also teachers to convinced of its importance and teach how to do it. I now pay tribute to the many elementary-grades teachers who have done this for years.

I clearly remember how my teachers taught our classes to write thank-you notes to classroom visitors. I have been on the receiving end of these, and I want to celebrate these teachers’ efforts as well as sharing with my readers my delight.

Our grandson was profoundly impressed with the story of his grandfather (seventh generation back) having freed his slaves in South Carolina and becoming an activist abolitionist. When in fourth grade they came to study the Civil War and slavery, he asked if I would come to his Libertyville, Illinois, school and tell this story. When his sister reached fourth grade, she made the same request. Both teachers required students to write thank-you notes and obviously taught specific ways of doing this.

Email newsletter signup

Almost all illustrated their notes with drawings, because I think at the younger ages they are more confident in communicating graphically than verbally. They were imaginative, and communicated well in this manner.

Also delightful is their creative spelling, e.g., It was interesting to here about him (Davy) — That’s cool he was your grate, grate, gate grandpa. (Lasey) — thanks for takeing time to come to my class … My class relly liked the stories. (Kiersten) — I think you are a cool granpa Willson is lucky (Drew) — I especially liked the part about people who helped flee slaves. (Keith) — Thank you for coming to my clas … I am sorry that I culd not see the holl thing (Wil) — Sencirly (Dylan). (This was free expression and not the time to correct spelling.)

One girl thoughtfully helped me with her name by signing it From, Margaux (Margo).

The students clearly reflected even the teachers’ language. Although Tim referred to it as a “show,” most put it “presentation,” not yet a word in their working vocabularies. But they also used their own words or, at least, words they had heard from older kids and were trying to fit into. The subject, William Henry Brisbane, was “cool” as was his associate Levi Coffin and even me. So, too, do we all “rock.”

The perfectly adequate adjective “so” wasn’t sufficient, in their way of thinking, because many put it “thank you soooo much.” They were also good at using multiple exclamation points.

Jill caught an ecclesiastical nicety in referring to “Friend Coffin,” a Quaker.

The teachers expressed their appreciation for my having driven from Minnesota to the Chicago area specifically to talk with the classes. (I’ll do almost anything my grandchildren ask me to do for them.) So, most led with an impressed “all the way.”

Most mentioned the same details, the sort of things that tickle kids’ imagination. The Indiana underground railroad station had a door hidden by a heavy bed that led into a crawl space under the eaves and a tunnel from the basement kitchen to the stream at a distance. They liked Levi Coffin defending a slave who had confessed to having escaped. He argued that inasmuch as the court had never admitted into evidence a statement from negroes because “they all lie,” it had to conclude this man lied about having escaped and, so, should be set free.

They liked the doll image of Dr. Brisbane that a woman who lives in his 1868 house made for me and the miniature bale of cotton such as came from his plantation.

Molly played it safe by assuring me, “I liked the whole thing.”

They know how to win my heart. Drew said I am “a cool granpa” and Keith addressed me as “Papa.” Matt said, “This was the best presentation that I have ever listened to” and promised to read my book. “I’m proud of Dr. Brisbane too!” (Kristi).

How much did I appreciate these thank-you notes? Well, they are in front of me as I write.

These kids are now in college. I hope they still say thank-you without being forced.