WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER BEST ABOUT LAST SEMESTER?



Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry describing my discussion each semester with my juniors about the best book that they have ever read. In the blog, I explained that I thought education needed to be more than just conveying material. It also needs to be about helping students to broaden their horizons and become better rounded members of our society. If we are just going to teach stuff, computers can probably do that better than we can.

I got quite a number of emails about that post – most were positive although some were a bit mystified as to why I would do that in an accounting class. Heck, I would do that in any class.

So, okay, let’s take this thought a step further. What is your favorite class memory of the spring semester? I assume virtually everyone who reads this post is a teacher. What is your favorite teaching memory from the spring? (If you don’t have one, you probably need to make some serious changes.)

One of my favorite memories is of a photograph (now taped to my wall) taken with a camera phone of 8 freshmen students at the University of Richmond who are standing in front of the stage of the Virginia Opera waving at me. Why are they there? Why are they waving at me – their accounting teacher?

Although most of my students are juniors, I do teach an Introduction to Financial Accounting class which will often have freshmen. Last spring, I got an email from a friend who had some free tickets for a performance of the Virginia Opera and wanted to know if any of my students would like to go.

If I had sent out a note to my students about free opera tickets, on a school night no less, the silence would have been deafening—probably only broken by the sound of sarcastic remarks.

Most freshmen in college have never experienced an opera. The tickets were free. I wanted some of them to go. So, I wrote an email to the introductory class and explained that I had these tickets and would gladly give them out. And, I would add two points to the grade on their second test for any student who went. I give three tests each semester and a final exam so two points on one hourly exam has virtually no impact on a student’s overall grade. But, it is a tangible reward. No matter how small, students feel like they are being paid to go.

Believe it or not, a total of 13 out of my 30 students asked for tickets and went to the opera that night. Many of them came back the next day to tell me about the experience. I have not been to many operas (but I’ve seen enough to have a favorite - Tosca).  However, I could, at least, talk about the opera a little.

Is accounting where we should teach opera? That’s a ridiculous question. But I do not believe that any class should be limited to teaching just material. Computers can do that. Classes should also be about helping people learn how to live and experience.

And one serious key to achieving that goal is to offer a reward. Even if the reward is terribly small, it seems to jump start the students. And, that’s what I wanted.
Let me give you a second example that has worked for me for years. I teach juniors in Intermediate Accounting II. That course is terribly hard and very challenging. For many years, I have offered those students five bonus points on their final exam (a bit more reward than for the opera but still not much) to go out and do things in Richmond. If a college is in a city, I believe students should take advantage of that opportunity. Over the years, I estimate that 95 percent of the students in that class have taken advantage of the offer and gotten all five points. They’ve left campus and done something interesting – for a mere five bonus points on the final exam.

What do they have to do to get those five points? Here is what I tell them (highly edited):

“It is always sad for me to see students live here for four years and miss out on some of the most interesting aspects of the area. Your college experience should be about more than campus (and off-campus bars).  Therefore, to encourage you to get out and about, I will add one point to your final examination grade for each of the following activities that you do between now and the date of the final exam. However, I’m only willing to give you up to five extra points. Here is a list of what you can do to add points:

"---Visit Maymont Park and walk down to the Japanese Gardens. Walk around the pond. If it is turned on, stand under the waterfall (well, make sure it is summer for that). Truly one of the most beautiful and serene places in all of Richmond.

---Go to the Westhampton Theatre near campus and see a good movie. After you go to the big modern theatres, it is hard to believe that a movie theatre could have real antiques in the lobby. Plus, it has the most intellectual movies in town (by far). If you’ve never seen a great foreign movie, here’s the place to start.

---Visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Check out the Faberge Eggs and the 19th century Impressionist. Always neat to see a real Van Gogh or Renoir. They have a wonderful collection of American art as well as art of India and you can also see a statue of Caligula from about 2,000 years ago. Amuse is the restaurant there (third floor) and it is quite nice – excellent place to take your parents and impress them with your savoir faire.

---Visit Agecroft Hall. This is a 500 year old manor house that was taken apart in England piece by piece and rebuilt on the banks of the James River by a tobacco millionaire about 80 years ago.

---See a movie at the Byrd Theatre, especially when they are scheduled to play the mighty Wurlitzer. The movies are nowhere near as interesting as those at the Westhampton but the experience is marvelous. You feel like Al Capone is probably sitting nearby in the audience.

---Go to St. John’s Church on Church Hill and see a reenactment of Patrick Henry’s call for liberty speech. I never have enough students do this one. It is a genuine touch of US history.

---See a play put on by Richmond Shakespeare. There is something about seeing a few people put on an entire Shakespeare play that is great. Or, if you are really adventuresome, drive 90 minutes up into the mountains to Staunton and see a play at the American Shakespeare Theatre. The plays and the theatre there are fabulous.

---Go to the Poe Museum and learn about one of Richmond’s favorite sons. Yeah, I know he is buried in Baltimore but he spent most of his life wandering the streets of Richmond.

---Have a sub at the best deli in Richmond (and possibly the world). It is Bernie’s on Forest Avenue. Where else can you go where you are absolutely the only person in the room who has not already eaten there 1,000 times?

---Cross the Huguenot Bridge and take River Road toward town for a mile until you get to the Pony Pasture. Park your car in the lot and climb out onto the rocks of the James River. “Peaceful” doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.

---Go to the Virginia Historical Society and visit their exhibits. Richmond is nothing if it is not about history.

---Go downtown and visit the Museum of the Confederacy and the White House of the Confederacy. How could you stay in Richmond for four years and not do that?

---Head over toward the Richmond Airport and visit the Richmond Aviation Museum. It is not the Smithsonian but they do have a nice group of fascinating planes.

---Check out Hollywood Cemetery. Yes, visit a cemetery – it is one of the loveliest and most interesting places in Richmond. If the office is open, get a map to locate all the famous dead people. Park your car and just stroll around. It’s a place where you really need to walk. Take a date, walk around, hold hands, watch for ghosts, look at the statues.

---Go over to Willow Lawn Shopping Center – go around to the back and there is the Barksdale Theatre. Live theatre is always fun and at the Barksdale, you are only five rows or less from the stage.

---Go to the Science Museum and wander through their exhibits or watch a movie in the Imax Theater. Okay, a lot of places have Imax but the Science Museum is built in the old Richmond train station and when you walk in the front door, it has the feel of Grand Central Station.

---Drive a few miles south of Richmond and visit Berkeley Plantation, supposedly the home of the first official Thanksgiving.

---Go to the Carpenter Theatre at Center Stage and see an opera by the Virginia Opera. This fall they are doing The Pearl Fishers and Die Fiedermaus. Yeah, I know you are an accounting major and couldn’t possibly appreciate opera but that’s what I thought when I was your age and now I wonder how I could have been so ignorant. How do you know if you never try? Don’t take too much pride in being a hillbilly.

---Drive to Petersburg and see The Crater. If you read the book or saw the movie “Cold Mountain,” you know that the Northern army tried to blow up a huge part of the Southern Army by tunneling up under their line and setting off a gigantic store of dynamite. Well, the hole (actually 1/3 of the hole) is still there. It is just a hole but it has been there for nearly 150 years and it really gives you a genuine feel for the Civil War.

---On 14th Street downtown, you can take a boat ride through some of the canals built hundreds of years ago to get cargo around the rocks in the James River. This is a really fun thing to do on a nice afternoon. Your parents would love it. When you finish, enjoy the Canal Walk.

---Spend an afternoon in Williamsburg (or Jamestown or Yorktown) and finish with dinner in one of the taverns (try the King’s Arms if you can get in – they all require reservations well in advance).

---Take a walk through Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Most of the year, it is filled with hundreds of thousands of flowering plants.

---Visit the Monumental Church. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall raised the funds to build the church after a horrific fire on December 26, 1811. The fire killed 72 people, including the governor of Virginia. The bodies were burned so terribly that they are all buried together. John Marshall raised the funds and had the church completed by 1814.

---A short bike ride from campus is the Wilton House Museum, a James River Plantation house. Built around 1753, it was the centerpiece of a 2,000 acre tobacco plantation. It was here that the family entertained George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette.

---Visit the Richmond zoo. Okay, it is a bit of a drive and it is in the middle of nowhere but how often do you get to see a white tiger or feed a giraffe.


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