As many of our year-long programs prepare to depart this summer, our current volunteers in-country are faced with looming goodbyes and the end of their time at their schools and communities. Below, WorldTeach China volunteer Jolie Lee reflects on her last weeks as an oral English teacher at her school.
My students received their last batch of pen pal letters today.
“This is your last chance,” I told them. “Think hard about what you want to write.”
My students were surprised that we would not continue writing letters next year. I broke the news that I was only teaching at their school for this year. After that, there would be a different foreign teacher.
“No!” they cried. “Too soon!”
One of my students wrote to her pen pal, “Tell you bad news. My oral English teacher Jolie will leave. So we also keep in touch by ourselves. When I heard that, I’m very sad.”
I was touched, and it occurred to me that these last few weeks would be my last chance too. I must make the most of the remaining classes with my students. It’s strange. The first few months of coming to the school seemed to drag on interminably, but the last few have rushed by me. I’ve barely been able to stop and really absorb that this experience will almost be over.
Lately, I’ve pondered one question: Have I done enough? My self-evaluation depends on the day. On bad days, I am reminded of some students who still can barely read a simple sentence or say a greeting to me. I wonder if I have made any difference. On most days I know I have had some impact, even if the results of my teaching are not so tangible as a grade. At the same time that there are students who seem to be stagnant in their English learning, I see others bloom. I notice them take the initiative to speak to me in English, whereas last semester they hung back or only used Chinese. And instead of pausing every few words when reading sentences, they push ahead. I notice less fear.
I’ve learned in my own life that the biggest obstacle to anything is your own self. Lack of confidence can be crippling, and I don’t want that to be the reason my students don’t succeed. I have my one year to show them it’s possible for them to speak English, and then it’s in the hands of the next volunteer.