As part of a high school Sociology class, students write one letter a month as part of our “Write if Forward” unit. Early on in my career we completed a letter writing activity once a year. It was our “Make a Difference” Letter. Whenever possible, I attempt to model an assignment.
Here is my “model:\” letter with was sent on January 16, 2008.
Randy Pausch: You Make a Difference
Randy, I just wanted to let you know that you have been a great inspiration to so many people. I am a high school teacher in Hanover, Massachusetts. I teach a senior elective Psychology course. In the course, I hope to teach the students about establishing values, setting goals, creating synergy, and working well with others. Your speech will be a permanent part of my curriculum. (I have enclosed the excerpts from your speech that I will give to each student.) Needless to say, your words of inspiration will be a major influence in many of my student’s lives.
Since I first saw your clip on Oprah, I have spent many hours viewing your entire lecture, taking excerpts from your speech, reflecting on how to make connections to the students’ lives, and devising activities that focus on the themes of your speech and attitude toward life.
On a personal note, as an educator, I liked how you stressed how happy you are that you decided to “sell education” and become a professor. I am sure so many former students and people have contacted you in the last few months to let you know the difference you have made. That is not even the tip of the iceberg. Your inspirational attitude toward life will live on in your speech and future book. I can already see how your words have impacted my students. I think it is one of those “head fake” lessons that will stay with many of them for their entire lives.
In my teaching, I try to incorporate head fake activities (although I was previously unaware of this fantastic term to describe this learning). One such activity is the “You Make a Difference” letter. It is an activity where the students pick a person that has had a meaningful impact on their lives. The goal of the activity is for the students to write a personal letter to someone who has made a difference in their lives. The “head fake” is the reaction they often receive from the person they acknowledge. Many recipients react by shedding tears of happiness or just being very sincere in their appreciation of the letter. I hope all the students realize that a thoughtful note can have a positive influence on people. It is an activity that takes very little time, yet can impact a person for the rest of their lives.
As a parent, I understand the importance of family. And although you did not seem to focus your lecture on this topic much, you really did (BIG head fake!). I am sure your wife will treasure that special moment when the entire auditorium sang her Happy Birthday. To me it was one of the most moving parts of the lecture. I love my wife and I can only imagine the emotions I would be feeling if I were to be singing her happy birthday for the final time. The importance of family can sometimes be lost in the life of an adolescent; however, I am sure they will be able to better relate to this as they experience life more. (I appreciate your blog entry on how to write a book while riding a bike.)
The final theme I would like to write about is to “go for it.” I will be sharing this letter with the class as an example of the theme of going for it. I know a letter from a Massachusetts teacher is not very high on your list of important things (understandably); however, I wanted to let you, and those closest to you know how meaningful I think your work and life have been.
I am sure you are truly living each day to its fullest, are still doing what you love, and spending time with those you love. As a minor sign of my appreciation for your impact on my life, I would like to give you this gift card for Starbucks. I thought some coffee and donuts might be an OK thing to “bring to the table.”
On behalf of my current and future students, thank you for your legacy. As all good teachers do, I beg, borrow, and steal. (“It’s pretty easy to be smart when you’re parroting smart people.”) I am confident this unit based on your lecture will be one of the most important lessons for my students. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
P.S. I am still in the process of developing the reflective writing assignment. I will be sure to forward some examples of student work to this address in the future.
P.P.S. I am trying to compile a list of a joke for each day of the year. Since you seem to love to laugh, I thought a few of them might bring a smile to your face. (Most are real bad!)