Both of those phrases mean the same thing: something coming to an end. The first phrase indicates something pleasant or enjoyable is almost over; the last expression reveals that something onerous, dutiful or difficult – something that requires a lot of effort is almost done. For me and many other foreign teachers, the first phrase fits. For our students, the second one is more apt.
I kicked off my last class of the year by explaining the difference between those two seemingly synonymous phrases.
After listening to my charges' final recountings of their university experience, ceremoniously un-setting my phone's alarm and clearing my electronic calender of those pesky reminders: when, where and which groups of students have class, I reflect on the 2015/16 academic year.
Until recently, this has been a very sweet gig: minimal effort for maximum gain. This year I've had classes every day, sometimes several times a day – a far departure from when I had only 3 classes per week. Much of the joie de vivre that possessed me in my first few years here lay dormant in the face of duty and obligation. In fact, I could say that this engagement has become a full-time job! After being semi-retired for 4 years, it was a bit difficult to adjust to being occupied every day again.
I had some difficult groups this year. One demanded that I teach them something useful. “What is 'useful'?” I tasked them to debate. That particular group pushed me harder than any other class. For them, I worked extra hard to provide fresh material, presented in a unique way.
Thing is, I'm not required to teach anything (please see I'm Not Fluff entry, posted November, 2015) My job is to provide opportunities for students to practice their spoken English and, maybe, to correct, IF there is a grave error repeated by many. The school gives me plenty of latitude, something I really appreciate.
One thing I've learned this year is that not all groups are the same, or like the same activities. Whereas one class of freshmen loved making Powerpoints and presenting, another bunch didn't even like to answer out loud. One set suffered from 'phonitchia' – the urge to constantly be on their phones. Quickly, I learned to incorporate their phones into classroom activities.
OOPS! I guess I too could express the end of the year as 'The Last Hurrah', couldn't I?
Does every teacher look back over their year, weigh the good versus the bad and draw conclusions before putting the whole thing away and cavorting all summer? Are some teachers on fire with ideas, writing out lesson plans in advance of the distant, next semester? Or is everyone wrung out, ready to forget any word even remotely related to academia? I'm guessing some expat teachers are thinking of nothing but their trip home, after their year-long absence. How sweet will that reunion be!
I'm thinking about the year's standouts:
Orange, a dear boy who will graduate next year, who boarded a plane for Wisconsin yesterday. He will spend the summer in an amusement park, taking tickets and starting rides for gleeful vacationers. Through a series of texts that started in January, he asked for help and communicated this uncertainty and excitement. He will be a different boy when he comes back, I'm sure.
Haiyou Me! (还有 me!; Hi-yo me!), an adorable freshman (acual name: Vixen) who stands no taller than 1.20m but has the heart of a conquerer. This child, with her elfin visage and her boundless enthusiasm, has taken part in every English competition our department offered, performed in every student show and excelled in class. She is so well known around campus that, when I show her picture, even senior students know who she is. This summer she will go back to her village, where her heart has been since she came here. I wonder if she will take a part of this big city back with her?
I had 3 Julias this year. The first is an adorable pixie of a girl, quiet, soft-spoken and so cute you'd want to bite her (I restrained myself). The second started her college career with severe problems that she sought counseling for. At the start of the year she would barely talk when spoken to; these days she walks around campus with her head held high and eagerly joins in our classroom activities. What a change!
Julia the 3rd is a bit harder to quantify. Shunned by her classmates early in the year due to severe hygiene deficiencies, she threw herself into her studies, almost to the exclusion of all else. One tortuous episode witnessed between her and a classmate after the bell rang led me to take her under my wing. She is still mostly shunned by her peers but she is more confident in herself and her abilities. A good thing, too: she's a very bright girl who didn't need the extra burden of ridicule.
I had more than 200 students this semester. All have, in some way become remarkable to me; impressed themselves in my heart. Berry, a funny little girl who shyly stated she had ambitions to be a doctor, but her family quelled that notion. Doreen, from a poor village, determined to learn French as well as English, even though she battles apraxia. Bob, with the mellifluous voice of a preacher, a humorous kid who jests outside of class but can only barely be made to participate in class.
As I put away my grade book, so I shelve those who've occupied my time and thoughts all year, knowing they won't pursue English studies during the summer anymore than I will haunt classrooms.
That's why I believe the last class is the Last Dance: in spite of aggravations and demands on my time and heart, after that final bell rings, it is all over.
Time to move on.