June 24, 2010

Beginnings and Endings

I realize that this is my first post about my job. I love my job and one of the reasons being that I meet so many great and interesting people. In my ten years of teaching English, I’ve only ever had one nightmare student. I think that’s a pretty good batting average. One of the things that is hard about my job is finishing up with students and saying goodbye.

Like teachers with school boards you have to say goodbye at the end of the school year, but in the private sector, students can begin and finish at anytime. This past month I started with two new students and am saying ‘See you later’ to four. While starting with a new student can be nerve-wracking -- not knowing their level, their abilities to communicate in English, what they want – it’s a piece of cake compared to that awkwardness of saying goodbye to someone you’ve come to know really well, but who is still an acquaintance.

With language students who work for the government, summer is spent at work, with their families, and probably taking some holidays. I can’t blame them. In Ottawa summer is short and you have to take advantage of it while it’s here (and the last two summers haven’t been that great). And for others it means their course has come to an end. For some reason it seems easier saying goodbye when I teach international students. Maybe it’s because at the beginning I know that they will return to their country at the end of their studies. Maybe it’s because the classes are groups and other students take my attention away from the sadness. Maybe it’s because I know it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll meet again. Comparing with my government students, the majority work in Ottawa, a short walk or drive to the school. It’s also private classes so when my student leaves for the last time I’m left standing there alone with an empty chair across from me. It’s a weird feeling knowing that you’re probably not going to see them again, even though they work and/or live in the same city.

In teaching private classes, I’ve been blessed with interesting students, so much so that planning lessons and getting through them is a joy. Rarely is there a quiet moment and we cover everything; work, family, habits, hobbies, annoyances, news items, pop culture, the government –municipal and federal. Like the saying goes: ‘Time flies when you’re having fun’, and boy does it fly. Most often, if we didn’t need a bathroom or tea break, we would keep going all morning, afternoon, or all day.

Since the majority of my students need to learn English for work, we concentrate and practise the skills and functions they need to improve upon. In all the describing, explaining, talking about needing things done, making preferences, and composing orders you really get to know who these people are. While you prepare for their language test conversation will also include the joys and frustrations with work. Early in my career the complaints made me feel a little uncomfortable until I realized that as a student, they need to know how to do this. So while I’m sympathetic and have an ear to listen (my resume should also read part-time therapist) we use them as opportunities to learn not only about how people work, but also the language they need to express themselves. Topics that are personal and unrelated to work also materialise and it’s intriguing to see what’s behind the person sitting in front of me and it’s often these topics that show me what make them tick. I not only learn about my student personally, but their kids, spouses, other family members, and sometimes even friends. It’s the personalization of these lessons that makes it harder to say goodbye.

This is the part of my job that never gets easier. While the last day of class is far from my mind during our course, when I enter the room on our last day there is less of a bounce in my step. In the walk to the bus station or the coffee shop I think about the great time I’ve had and areas the student has succeeded in. Tomorrow I say ‘See you later’ to my last student before starting another job for the summer. There I’ll meet 200 students, get to know them, and then unfortunately, say goodbye as they return home.


Post a Comment