Goodbye, a love story about teaching

There is a point in every semester when you abandon hope and start planning for the next semester. I passed that point a few weeks ago. I am not, in fact, going to teach the perfect class this semester. My perfect plan always falls apart, sometimes because of me, sometimes because of students, and sometimes just because.

I knew I’d reach the “abandon hope of perfection” moment in class one day when I asked the students to write and then discuss their writing in small groups. A student said, “Why don’t we just talk as a large group? Small groups don’t really work for us.”

Before I could respond, half the class agreed. “Yeah, we don’t like small groups.”

If you know me well, you’ll know how I responded. We talked as a large group.

A person has a few choices in such a situation. I could have taken the opportunity to encourage them to challenge themselves, to inquire why small groups weren’t working, to make it—as teachers love to say—a teachable moment.

In the spur of the moment, though, I followed my instinct to trust my students and to take their advice. Who knows if it was the right answer?

Either way it was a teachable moment for me. I needed to ask myself why small groups weren’t working, how I could improve small group interaction, and why I haven’t been gathering snapshot assessments from them all semester about how class has been going.

One thing I know for sure, just when I get to know a group I have to say goodbye to them. Goodbye is a hazard in my job. I go to graduation every May not because I have to, not because I want to support my institution, not for a dozen other reasons. I go to have one last chance to say goodbye.

I’d like to say goodbye to more of them in May, by which I mean, I’d like to see more of my students graduate. So many don’t make it. So, while I find saying goodbye very hard, it breaks my heart when they don’t graduate.

Teaching is mostly about relationships and relationships are mostly about love. Students put a lot of faith in us. They are vulnerable in our presence. They take risks.

Maybe it seems I’m bringing too much drama to the situation, but learning to write is partially about identity. Our words help us present ourselves to others and to ourselves. When a student gets a “C” on a paper, it’s important to make sure they know they aren’t getting a “C” on their identity. It’s important for both of us to realize this.

Truth is, when I look out at a group of students I’m smart enough to know that I’m probably not the smartest person in the room. Often over the years, I haven’t even been the best writer. Frequently, I’m not the best person.

This semester is almost at an end. On the last day of class I’ll feel the tug of sadness that always comes with goodbye. But it is my hope that I’ll have a chance to say goodbye for good when they graduate some May a few years in the future.

This post is in response to a prompt from our community manager here at ChicagoNow. Every month Jimmy Greenfield hosts a “blogapalooz-hour,” giving us a topic and one hour to write a post and publish it. Tonight’s topic was to write about a time we had to say goodbye.

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