I said goodbye to my two General English classes this week. They turned in their final papers, gave their final presentations, lined up to have their picture taken with me on various cell phone cameras, and walked out of my classroom. The last-class photo shoot was an interesting phenomenon: first there was the requisite full-class photo (in which I stood at the center in my marmy teacher outfit with my marmy teacher smile surrounded by my hip and end-of-semester-happy students), followed by a few "Fiona and the girls" pictures and "Fiona and the boys" pictures, and rounded off with a series of one-on-one shots creepily reminiscent of prom. And for my students, of course, no photo was complete without the raising of their hands and the parting of their fingers into the indispensable and unmistakable shape of a V. It was a mystery to me what this V might mean -- Peace out? Vacation? Bunny ears?
General English paparazzi notwithstanding, I was really sad to see my students go. The truth is, I am pretty much madly in love with them. Teaching EFL has its ups and downs and it's definitely not something I'd want to do forever, but my students themselves are perfect. They have stolen my heart. I kind of hope this isn't how teachers normally feel about every class of students they ever have, because if so, I'm not sure I'll make it through next semester.
The feeling, it seems, might be mutual. In our second to last class, I had every student write me a letter reflecting on the following four questions:
As a student:
1. What do you think you did well this semester?
2. What do you think you could have done better?
As a teacher:
3. What do you think I did well this semester?
4. What do you think I could have done better?
You better believe I got some prize responses. And since I haven't yet hunkered down to grade the stack of final papers I have waiting for me, I'm going to treat you to some excerpts from the most complimentary 35 letters I've ever received:
I'm not sure how legitimate the claim that I am "the greatest teacher ever" is (after all, this being only their first semester of college, I'm not really up against a whole lot of competition yet), but if the general flavor of these sentiments is any indication, I'd say we had a pretty good run. They're always going to be my very first students, the ones who taught me how to teach, and I'm always going to be that crazy American teacher with the short hair they had their first semester, who made lots of bad jokes and drew smiley faces on the board. This much is clear: we made an impression on each other. We're not going to be easy to forget.
So in the spirit of ends and beginnings, I'm going to go ahead and say that those V's stand for victory. We collectively made it through our first semester -- for them as university students, and for me as a university teacher -- and I think we did a pretty good job of it. Here's to hoping it only gets better -- and in the meanwhile, peace out.