So, before I get to the story of this post, let me give you a quick snapshot of my day:
- Woke up late.
- Zoomed to the airport (generously driven part of the way there by T.G.)
- Flew to Edmonton (our province's capital city, about 300 km north of here, or a 1 hour flight) with a colleague.
- Met with officials from our ministry of education about some research projects we’re involved in.
- Got the 2:00 p.m. flight back to Calgary.
- Went into the office; checked e-mail; put out a few proverbial fires.
- Zipped over to the fitness centre for a quick swim.
Went to invigilate my students’ final exam, which happened to be in one of the big gyms at the fitness centre. (All the gyms get turned into big exam rooms at this time of year.) So… it was a busy day. Go go go… not much breathing room.
I dunno about you, but when I go on overdrive like that, I can be stopped dead in my tracks by something unexpected... Well, emotionally at least… Though I would rarely show such a thing in public and especially not at work! That's exactly what happened tonight.
All the students registered in Spanish wrote their final exams in the same big gym, along with all the students registered in some other course (an engineering course, I think).
The gym flooded with a few hundred students who all found their pre-assigned seat. The final exam began and each instructor surveyed their row of students to do a quick head count.
I saw one empty desk in my row. My heart sank. Some of you may remember the student I had who was struggling. If you don’t, you can check out the post here:Revelation. That student never showed up for the final exam. He gave up.
Of course, this played on my mind during the two-hour exam, but again, I’m not one to openly show such things.
A few of the students has asked me to join them at the campus bar for a drink after the exam. Whenever students invite me to join them in an after-exam beverage, I always accept. Not only is it a nice way to round out the semester, but I know that not every instructor gets invited out by their students and I’m lucky to have students who, after writing a brutal 2-hour exam, still want to see my face!
Anyway, I went to the bar, as I’d promised. The girl who sat next to this struggling student in class said, “So it looks like G. dropped out.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I figured, since he wasn’t at the final.”
She said, “He mentioned to me in our last class that he was thinking about it. He’s got straight A’s in all his other courses. He was just having a hard time with this one.”
I know. I spent a good deal of time giving him extra help, finding and photocopying extra practice activities and generally trying to help him get through.
Our last Spanish class was last Thursday. G. was there. Said something on the way out about thanks for everything. I didn't clue in that it was his way of saying, “Adiós”.
The last day to drop classes was the next day – Friday. We figured he must have waited until the very last minute and then dropped the course.
I have learned in my 12-year teaching career that you can’t read minds. Usually, we teachers have no idea what’s going on in our students’ lives or their heads unless they tell us.
Most first-year university classes are big and impersonal. Language classes are typically not. My class this year had about 30 students in it. By the end of the course, I know all their names, they know each other’s names and there’s been a fair amount of group bonding that’s happened.
So, if students drop out, it’s not all that unusual for them to let me know. Though sometimes it makes me sad, I always appreciate them telling me. But G. didn’t… for reasons I’ll never know.
Sometimes, students don’t know that their teachers care … or even notice, when they’re not there. But I do. In fact, I think most teachers who actually get to know their students do notice when things are out of the ordinary.
G. doesn’t know that I had his last assignment to hand back to him tonight and that his grade had gone up. The way he was going, he would have certainly passed the exam.
I’ve also learned that you can’t take professional things personally. Generally, I don’t. I certainly don’t blame myself for G. dropping out. Like I said, I have no idea what was going on in his head. But it does leave me feeling sad.
OK, here’s me being real… I’m sitting here blogging about it, fairly choked up…. to see someone so smart and so “together”, who had put in so much time and effort, and money (tuition and books) and just sheer determination… throw it all away at the very end.
In general, I love teaching. Just not at the moment.