"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Friday, January 22, 2010

The semester ends

I’ve had a bit of a cold this past week. Though, it’s probably the most “convenient” time for it to happen, as the term has ended this week, with a fairly hectic few weeks behind me of preparing, administering, and grading exams, and several exciting weeks ahead, as I intend to spend some time over our five-week long winter holiday exploring a bit more of China.

It’s kind of a nice feeling to be wrapping up the semester. It feels like a significant accomplishment. After nearly five months in this role, I’ve watched my “natural teacher” find a platform, an opportunity, an outlet, a project, a call—whatever word captures it best. I’ve done a lot of things right, and felt praise and affirmation for my success. I’ve also done a lot of things wrong, which, in a way, I’m grateful for, since those tend, for me at least, to be what thrust me forward, compel me to improve, grow, and prepare for future challenges and opportunities with the wisdom gained from doing it wrong the first time.

Some of where I feel I need to grow as a teacher is technique; a lot of it may just be confidence. I’ve made what might be rookie mistakes: probably apologized a bit too much, probably wasn’t clear enough on expectations I thought I'd made clear, probably didn't fully know what some of my expectations even were, probably didn’t push students enough, probably wasn’t flexible enough to what the students needed, among other things.

Many of the challenges were also due not just to being an amateur but to the challenges inherent for all foreign teachers at this school, many stemming from issues of communication, language barrier, or different cultural expectations about a number of things: learning styles and how students expect to be taught; the often nebulous expectations of the department (a more complex matter); not enough resources and supplies to fulfill my vision of how my classes should go.

And, a lot of where I need to grow is simply in confidence. I expect the spring term to provide both a fresh start and a chance to build upon what I began this term. Grading exams sure thwarts such attempts at confidence though. I had a pretty big spread on all my exams, with some students excelling and some students failing (though no one failed the class). Why so many Fs? Maybe my exams were too difficult. Maybe I didn’t teach the material effectively. Maybe it was an English problem. Maybe there are some poor students in my class. Maybe they didn’t study enough. It’s easy to point the blame at myself, to feel somewhat responsible for my students’ shortcomings. Despite a number of my A-students who made significant improvements this term, it’s hard not to focus on those who struggled.

And even though I know a certain amount of detachment is important here—these are my students, not my children, and I don’t need to feel responsible for their destinies—it’s still a challenge. Because, I do care about my students, and want them to succeed. I suppose this is another lesson I’ll continue to learn through practice: it’s difficult to help people that don’t want to help themselves. I can only do so much; I can only play my part. I can't force anyone to learn or care about the material, though I can do my best to create the opportunity for learning to take place.

But for those that do want to “help themselves,” well…I guess I better do some serious semester-end reflection and figure out how I can be a better teacher second semester. I’ll be teaching the same 42 students (two cohorts) next term and am excited about this continuity, both for the benefit of their learning as well as for my relationships with them. All in all, the semester probably did exactly what it should have done for me: confirmed my abilities as a good teacher, but revealed several areas where growth is needed. A success, I'd say.

Enjoyed a few final dinners, ping-pong bouts, and mid-morning karaoke sessions with my students. A bit sad to say so many farewells this week, as students have all gone home as of this afternoon...a precursor of things to come at the end of June when I return home. But no need to go there yet.

1 comment:

Barb said...

Matt honey, you are a natural.