The Last Class

It’s been less than an hour since I finished my last face-to-face class with one of the sections of the assessment course I teach. These moments are always the most difficult for me to navigate because of the range of emotions I experience. There’s a sense of completion for another semester in the books, but also a profound sense of loss from the realization that I probably won’t see many of these students again. We’ve spent weeks and weeks together and shared this common experience. And now it is over.

And here I am. In my office. Working through the joys and sorrow on my own.

I struggle with closure, not just with last classes but with endings in general. When I write, I usually get to the end of my thoughts and want to write “The End” instead of challenging myself to write a more effective closure. There’s part of me that wants to end the last class the same way. Midway through the class, I’d plan some small group discussion for my students and then quietly exit the room without them noticing. I didn’t do that today. I stuck around and attempted a more effective closure. Here’s what I did.

After the small group discussion (which I’m proud to say I didn’t surreptitiously exit), I brought the class back together for some final parting words. Most of these students will begin their student teaching experiences next semester before starting their careers as teachers next fall. I’m compelled to thank them for entering this profession. When so many qualified candidates choose other paths, these students are here, signing up for a field in which I’ve spent the last thirty years of my life. I’m grateful that they’re making that choice and I’m inspired by the energy and passion they’re bringing to the profession.

At the point of the final class, I usually start to struggle with my words and thoughts. So, I draw on smarter people’s words to fill the gaps. Lately, I’ve been choosing the words of Stephen Brookfield who wrote The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom (2006). In the book, Brookfield writes:

Teaching is not about charismatically charged individuals using the sheer force of their characters and personalities to wreak lifelong transformations in students’ lives. It’s about finding ways to promote the day-to-day, incremental gains that students make as they try to understand ideas, grasp concepts, assimilate knowledge and develop new skills. All the small things you do to make this happen for student represent the true story of teaching. Helping learning is what makes you truly heroic.” (p. 278)

This morning, I shared that quote with my students and almost read it all the way through without my voice cracking. In the past, I have found the phrases “lifelong transformations in students’ lives” and “truly heroic” as the ones that get stuck in the back of my throat. That happened again today.

After taking a moment to gather my thoughts, I explained the power of small actions. I urged them not to discount the powerful impact that small actions can have on a student’s life. I then talked a little about the physics behind trim tabs, before explaining that trim tabs can be viewed as a larger metaphor for the impact that we as teachers can have on students’ lives. “Be a trim tab!” I explained to them. “Do the small things.”

And this is where I felt the class crash to a halt. My emotions got the better of me and I hastily shared a five-minute writing prompt and the link to a short course evaluation survey. I ducked behind the podium and awkwardly said goodbye to students after they completed their final tasks.

I’m back in my office now, and I’m reading their course evaluation responses. My course evaluation survey questions include three pretty straight forward prompts.

  1. What about the course did you think was effective?
  2. What about the course should be changed? Why? Provide specific ideas for course improvement.
  3. What other information would you like to share about our course?

Buried in the different suggestions for improving the class, one student wrote:

Thank you for everything this semester. You made me feel seen and inspired. I appreciate you!

Reading that post, I’m reminded by the Parker Palmer quote I’ve shared a bunch of times on this blog. And yes, I’m going to share it again today.

“Good teaching,” Palmer writes, “is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest. The concept of hospitality arose in ancient times when this reciprocity was easier to see; in nomadic cultures, the food and shelter one gave to a stranger yesterday is the food and shelter one hopes to receive from a stranger tomorrow. By offering hospitality, one participates in the endless reweaving of a social fabric on which all can depend—thus the gift of sustenance for the guest becomes a gift of hope for the host. It is that way in teaching as well: the teacher’s hospitality to the student results in a world more hospitable to the teacher.”

There will come a time when I have my final “last class” with a group of students. I hope it is years down the road because I can’t imagine how hard that day will be.

Today wasn’t that day, thankfully. Today was hard enough.

The End.


One thought on “The Last Class

  1. Pingback: Top Posts from 2022 – Part 2 | The 8 Blog

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