Month: December 2014

Saying goodbye

For the last ten years, I’ve been teaching English at a local grade school.  I’ve taught every child in the school, every topic, every word, for the last ten years.  This week, this particular adventure draws to an end as I pass the baton to my successor.

Memories wash over me as I look back on my experience as an Early Bird teacher.  To think I had originally overlooked the advert in the paper, thinking that it wouldn’t be up my alley.  My sister-in-law sent it on to me anyway, and a week later I sat at the table in the Early Bird office, still uncertain if this was the path I was supposed to follow.  A month or two later, I knew for certain: this was what I needed to do.  In a time and place where early ESL was taking its first baby steps, I was in my element.  I had been looking for a place where I could develop something entirely new and combine it with my love for teaching, and here it was, with a class of ten- and eleven-year-olds, a supportive principal, and enough “chutzpah” to go in and act like I knew what I was doing.

Early ESL was all over the news in those days.  I still find PR pictures of myself floating around the internet.

Early ESL was all over the news in those days. I still find PR pictures of myself floating around the internet.

The goal of my first lesson was simple: get everyone to speak in English.  Say your name.  Say how old you are.  Ask your neighbor what his name is.  The classroom teacher gushed after the lesson: “I didn’t expect everyone would be willing to speak during your lesson, but they all did!”  Later that week, I came back, ready for lesson two.  Such was the start of my work as an early ESL teacher in Rotterdam.

As time passed, I moved from acting like I knew what I was doing, to knowing what I was doing.  It wasn’t easy, because there was no pre-planned path or pre-defined goal.  My first talk with the head of Early Bird was something akin to “Go in there and see what you can do.”  And so I did.  I soon realized that I needed to find a developmental curriculum, so I could keep track of pupil’s progress.  Eventually, this developed into a program I dubbed DRoPP (Digital Record of Pupil Progress).  I wanted to develop a portfolio of children’s work, and this – after many a side road – finally developed into an external hard drive where I regularly kept samples of children’s work.  The list of materials and lessons I developed is long, and I look back on my experience with great satisfaction.

Last Monday was my last day of teaching.  I taught my lessons, keeping the children busy and learning, until the very end.  Each of the preschool classes presented me with a poster filled with personal messages from each child.  Sometimes they sang, but each lesson ended with a group hug.

The last class of the day waved me out into the hall, where I found the First grade, clearly waiting for me with a mischievous grin on every face.  I looked at them, confused, but the classroom teacher motioned me through.  As I started walking between the two rows, the children burst out in song, “Good-bye, Miss Amy…” I fought back the tears as I realized that the Second graders were waiting in line, just behind the First grade. They were in on what turned out to be the biggest surprise ever.

The children lined both sides of the staircase.

The children lined both sides of the staircase.

Finally, I arrived at the staircase, and found the rest of the school lined up on both sides.  Children sang, gave hugs, and greeted me as I made my way down.  I didn’t bother trying to hide my tears any more.  Truly, this was a very special farewell!  This school has touched me – and, perhaps, I have touched these children too – in a way I will never forget.  The team at this school has grown into a second family for me, and the warm welcome I have always felt, every time I walked in the door, will stay with me for a very long time.