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.
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.
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.