When was the last time you sent a thank-you note, not an e-card, but an honest-to-goodness, cursive-written expression of gratitude?
Two little words.
A whole lot of meaning.
Manners and politeness used to be mainstays of parenting. Somewhere during the past generation or so, common courtesy disappeared.
Today’s times are cruder, ruder, uglier.
That is why I infuse my teaching with lessons about decency.
Writing people thank-you messages is one way to encourage students to become better people.
Often adults assume children know how to do simple acts of kindness. However, people need to be taught how to be nice.
The practice of sending thank-you cards has become nearly extinct, which is why the American Greetings card company offers samples of how to write them on its website for a variety of settings including baby showers, job interviews, weddings and funerals.
To begin my lesson, I unfolded pre-printed posters with illustrations of trees with branches and leaf outlines. I had students think about one thing in their lives for which they are grateful.
Then I gave each student a “leaf” large enough for a single word.
After writing the word down, they each came up and attached the leaf to the “Gratitude Tree.”
It is impressive to see these extra-large posters mounted on the bulletin board. Each day they come to class, they can see a little part of themselves.
Now that they thought about what makes them feel grateful, I asked them to think of one special person who they would like to thank, perhaps a person who got them through some struggles, someone who is always there for them. It could be a relative, a friend, a teacher or a member of the clergy.
Every time, I have a guest speaker visit my classroom, I make sure that students send an email expressing thanks for that individual’s time to talk to them.
I explain that it is not only the polite thing to do, but in doing so, will encourage that person to continue visiting schools.
This time, however, instead of emailing a “thank you” I had my students compose a thank-you letter by hand. This led to a lesson on how to write a letter with a date, salutatio, and closing, a task quite foreign to my clientele.
I shared with my students an actual thank-you letter I wrote, highlighting each part. I also recommended that they include details to personalize the appreciation, instead of resorting to generalities.
We talked about the importance of handwriting rather than typing the notes. Taking the additional care to write rather than type — or, heaven forbid, text — is like leaving a piece of you inside the message.
Then I took this exercise one step further. I bought 150 thank-you cards and envelopes. As I passed these out, I told them to address the envelope either with the person’s name if hand delivered, or a full address if mailed.
Finally, I demonstrated how to address an envelope as well as how to properly insert the card into it.
All of these small details we assume people know. But if we don’t take the time to teach the small details, the concept of thanking people will disappear.
I purposely gave them 15 minutes of class time to write the cards, partly to ensure that they did it, but also to show them how little time it takes to brighten someone else’s day.
Once students sealed the envelopes, I asked them to share with the class any feedback they may receive from the recipients.
At the end of the day, one student came up to me and said with a grin, “We should do this again.”
I told him he could do so anytime he wanted to now that he knew how. Then I thanked him — in person.