Saturday, January 23, 2010

Feelings at the End of the Semester

Written quickly, minimal editing, excuse the maudlin sentiments and complete lack of jokes.

There is nothing worse than the feeling a teacher gets when he sees that a student has written at the bottom of her (ok, not very good) math exam Sorry, Jon, I guess I'm just not good at math. There is nothing worse than this. There is nothing worse than wanting to tell her that she is wrong, that she is not a failure, and that the fault lies not with her but with the teacher, wanting to encourage her but knowing that the damage is already done. There is nothing worse than giving final oral exams and seeing a student rocking back and forth in fear, nearly crying as he tries to remember how to say 灵感 in English, and you want to help him but you know you can't. There is nothing worse than looking for excuses not to give a failing grade to a student and finding none.

It is terrible to see students mock each other. Worse: it is terrible to see students methodically dismantle each other, attack and attack until the insults dull and what's left is pale communal hatred, loneliness, tepid disgust. And you want to stop it, but don't: it's been going on for so long, and you can't think of anything to say except excuses. And you see students at English corner, and you say you're going to Thailand and they warn you about the ladyboys -- they're disgusting, you know, unnatural -- and a girl next to you says quietly that it's not so weird. She says she feels like a boy sometime, too. And then she asks you to take pictures of elephants when you go to Thailand, because elephants are her favorite animal. And you're moved, surprisingly, by a request so pure. What you say is yes, I will do my best to find your elephants but what you want to say is there are people like you, you are not unnatural, and you are not alone.

I have nothing to say about any of this, except sometimes teaching isn't great. It's great in the big things, but there are small moments, still, where you can see that your students are sad, lonely, or scared. And you look back at the semester and you see there were times when you could have helped, but you didn't, because you were sad, lonely, or scared, too.

Fun posts return tomorrow! Promise! (Seriously.)