Friday, January 6, 2012

Thank you to my students. Part 1: Canadian Studies

How to say "thank you" to the thousands of students in a long teaching career.  There is no way, really, but in mid-December, 2011, when I retired, I began a blog post.  I knew I couldn't name each person, nor even remember every face. I also knew that most would never see the blog or read my words. But, I had to try to express my gratitude. Each student left a mark on the person I became, and on the students who followed.  

I decided to focus only on my final semester. The students who were in those classes, or who had connected with me at that time, would have to represent the many who came before. My post  became longer and longer, and each day, I added to it.  Then, one day, before I had a chance to publish, the post was gone.  Lost in cyberspace forever.  Because it was a draft, there is no way to get it back.  

So, I begin again to try to express my thanks.  This time, I will do four posts: 1. Canadian Studies, 2. International Studies, 3. Academic Skills, 4. Students from the past who reconnected through Facebook or e-mail. To the others whose names and pictures will not appear here, please forgive me and know that your impact was still felt. I am so grateful to you for everything that you taught me!    

Part 1: Canadian Studies - The Last Class
1st row, from left to right: MC, Ancelin, Anh, and James.  
2nd row: Carolina, Han, Michelle, Jaime, Oleg, Aleksander, Dinmukhamed, Frank, Kentaro, Taiki, and Jack. 
James organized the students to make a beautiful poster for me.  This was to be my last class ever, and he made it a beautiful memory that will stay in my mind for a very long time.  Thank you, James, and thank you to each one of you!
Here's a close-up of the poster.  I love it, and will keep it forever.
In the picture below, I asked the students to get silly. Carolina and Ancelin made funny faces, Frank and Anh did bunny ears, and Taiki played the drums on James' head. The others laughed.  I love this picture.
Ancelin had the idea of separating the groups by country.  She took the pictures.
Carolina, Michelle, Jaime, Ms. Carson
Ancelin had fun being creative with my camera.
Dinmukhamed, Oleg, Ms.C, Aleksander
Taiki, James, Ms.C, Kentaro
Anh, Ms.C
Jack, Ms.C, MC, Ancelin, Han, Frank
This time, Ms. C remembered to face the camera.
Ancelin said Ms.C had to do stand alone with the poster.
Anh checked that no part was falling off the poster.  
I love that James is not afraid of the camera.  Jaime smiles in the background.
We went back in the classroom.  The final exams were all finished and I knew the students deserved a break.  I told them they could do whatever they chose for the rest of the class.  Frank looked serious as he listened to music on his laptop.  Several times during the semester, Frank said things that stayed in my mind.  He did a bicycle trip to Tibet that inspired me.  I hope to have an adventure like that some day.  When we learned about Remembrance Day, he told me that he hates war.  I could feel the emotion in his voice. I was sad for him, but happy for the world, because I know he will do everything possible to keep peace wherever he goes.
Oleg looked up with an enigmatic smile. He told me that he really likes history.  His mark of 95% on his final exam was the highest mark I gave for the whole semester. Oleg didn't speak up very often, but when he did, everyone listened.  Somehow, we recognized that he only spoke when he felt he had something to say, and that his words would be honest, heartfelt and significant.
James sat in the corner by my desk.  He connected his laptop to the TV, so that everyone could listen to his amazing collection of music.  I really enjoy that he loves music so much. Although I did not teach music in my final semester, music has been a very big part of my career, and James was in my band class last semester.  He played the trumpet and also the drum set. He made that class rock!  I will never forget that. 
Jaime is a "gentle giant" sort of guy.  Once, I was walking through the cafeteria when a fight broke out between two students.  Fights are very rare at Bodwell.  In my 13 years with the school, I had never before witnessed one.  I was so surprised, it took me a minute to think what to do.  I tried but could not separate the students.  Then, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was Jaime.  With a small smile, he wrapped one student in a bear hug. The fight was over in an instant, and I believe it was because of Jaime's calm nature. Jaime also brought tears to my eyes when I read his Rafiki essay to the class. Rafiki means friendship in Swahili.  For the past few years, a few of our students have gone to Kenya to establish a friendship with students in two schools there.  We had an essay competition about the importance of this connection. Jaime's words made me feel good about the world's future. He is gifted with the ability to see beyond the surface. He truly understands that we are all humans trying to get along in one world. Under our skins, we are the same. 
Jaime gave me this table cloth that I love.  The embroidery shows..
the traditional Mexican culture. The colours and stories in it are alive with beautiful energy.
Han didn't talk very much when he first arrived at Bodwell, but I could tell that he was listening and learning.  Then, I asked everyone to memorize "In Flanders Fields" and to recite it in front of the class.  Han did an amazing job!  He also spent time after class discussing his Rafiki essay with me.   Han's ideas were profound, and his desire to do well was very strong. I came to know him better through those after-school talks and was happy for him when the judging committee chose him to be on the short-list. 
Below, Anh and MC sit, each lost in their electronic world.  Anh was the only student from Vietnam, and she is just beginning to develop her English language skills.  That is not an easy situation to be in.  Often, her eyes told me that she wanted to express something, but finding the words in English was a challenge.  She must have felt frustrated, but she never showed it.  It was rare to find her without a smile, and she loved to be helpful in the classroom.  She was always the one to replace the posters that fell from the wall.  Anh is well on her way to success in her studies. 
Ancelin made me laugh many times.  She really was a lot of fun to have in the class.  She is an organizer, and never afraid to speak her thoughts honestly.  She is a wise person, and when she made suggestions, I usually listened. The other students did as well.  One doesn't really argue with Ancelin :)
Jack arrived in Canada mid-semester.  He has gone back to China, but during his time here, he went from someone who rarely spoke, and never smiled, to someone who always came into the classroom with a friendly greeting, and who never left without saying good-bye.  His smile became bigger and bigger as the semester went on.  I will miss that smile, Jack, and hope you will let me know how things are going for you.
Taiki smiled when he saw it was his turn for my camera's eye.  Always good-natured, Taiki went calmly about his days, doing his best to complete his work, even when it was difficult.  I often wonder how I would have fared in a foreign country, far from my family, completing my schooling in a new language.  Our students are brave.  It is so easy to forget that, especially with the ones who quietly go about doing the best they can with never a complaint.  
Kentaro didn't smile.  He wrote on my beautiful poster, "I'm so sad."  Me too, Kentaro!  I'm happy to go on with this new phase in my life, but also sad to lose the interaction with young thinkers like you who have so much to share with the world.  I will miss you, always so willing to help whenever I needed someone to translate, and always with an "I get it" expression in your eyes.  Thank you for the origami crane, a symbol of peace that you gave to me one day, after one of our Remembrance Day discussions. 
I don't know if you thought of it as a symbol of peace, or if you just knew I would like it because I like birds.  Either way, I will keep it as a cherished memento of your special contribution to the class.
Aleksander was another student who always said it like it is.  He made me laugh too, because he really understood the idea of keeping things simple.  I don't know if he knew about the KISS theory, or if that direct, uncomplicated approach was just his natural way.  I think his quick intelligence will take him far in life.
Dinmukhamed peeked around his laptop with a small smile.  He overcame a difficult situation with courage after the midterm, and I think he knew I respected him for that turnabout. I have the magnet he gave me at the beginning of the semester on my fridge.  It represents Astana-Almaty's torch relay and the 2011 Asian Winter Games.  It will always bring Dinmukhamed's country (Kazakhstan) and his friendly, hardworking nature to mind.  

Michelle (on the left) and Carolina were great friends, and both had smiles as big as their warm hearts.  Michelle was quite new at studying English, and like so many of the others, struggled many times to find words to express her feelings.  I sensed her frustration sometimes, but she knew what was most important.  Can you guess?  You only have to look at her sunny face, and you will know the answer.  Yes..  you have it.  Keep smiling!  That was Michelle's lesson to me, and I hope I never forget it. Carolina taught me lessons too.  She could work with anyone in the class, no matter what country they came from, and she could always find a way to communicate.  I think, like Jaime, she has a talent for understanding what lies beneath the surface.  This makes people trust her.  Another lesson I hope to remember. 
At the end of the class, everyone left, and I spent a few minutes just thinking about the fact that I would no longer be teaching.  Wow!  Talk about a lifestyle change.  Just as that feeling was sinking in, Jorge appeared.  He had not been able to attend the class, but I really appreciated that he took time to come in afterwards.  Ancelin came with him, and made sure to get a picture :) 
Jorge is a super-kind and super-fun person.  And, the best part is that he is not afraid to show his kindness.  He was also the 2nd place winner in the Rafiki essay contest, something to be especially proud of, as he competed against two other more advanced English classes.  As I think about it, I realize this class really had the perfect mix of personalities.  That final visit reminded me that I was the luckiest person in the world to have had the opportunity to teach, and to end my career with such a beautiful group of students.
The rest of this post is a collection of pictures from events throughout the semester.  
James at the school picnic.
Anh (on the left),
 smiling as she finishes the Terry Fox fun.
 Jorge, finishing the Terry Fox fun..
 in style.
A beach walk.
 James, using Jaime for a boost up.
 Jaime, lost in thought.
 Anh, enjoying the day.
 Kentaro and Michelle.  Invitation to play ball.
 Some Canada Geese
 Gathering by McKay Creek
 Aleksander, the philosopher.
Frank, offering gifts at Fort Langley
Carolina, Michelle and Oleg
Taiki and Kentaro, writing with quill-pens
James, playing for all of us.
Merl Jones, our entertaining guide at Fort Langley, a Sto'lo Nation person. 
Kentaro shows his strength.
 Anh, Jorge, Michelle, Carolina, Dinmukhamed enjoy a chance to sit.
Kentaro uses the saw
Dinmukhamed uses the saw.
Jorge, Jaime, Aleksander, Dinmukhamed and Merl look over the Fraser River.

Michelle helps Merl in the Blacksmith shop.
They made this hook.  It was a prize in the vocabulary contest.  Oleg was the winner!
 Dinmukhamed pulls the rod that fans the fire. 
Kentaro tries it too.
James too.  Merl checks the fire.
 A group photo with Merl. 
Han takes a photo..
of Frank who makes a peace sign.
 The perfect ending for a wonderful group of students who value peace and friendship.  My deepest thanks and appreciation to you all.


  1. Carol, what a terrific group of young people and how wonderfully you showcased their special talents and charms. I absolutely LOVED the action, group and individual captures of all the students who I know have a way of teaching us as they continue to learn and grow. What a joyous post and yet a little melancholy as this chapter is closing so that new ones can begin. I think you will be very much missed, Carol. And I believe you are the kind of teacher many of us wish we had. Lovely post! I look forward to the rest. :)

  2. Carol, for some reason I had missed your last couple of posts and caught up this morning. I was going to comment on the amazing bird photos, interesting dialogue, etc., and then I read this post and it actually brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps it reminded me of some of my own favourite students from my old teaching career, but most of all it shows the joy you found in working with young people and the joy they found in having you as a teacher. I am so happy for you - and for them - that you have these great memories as you begin your new adventures in retirement.
    Hey.....does this mean you will now have time to come for a visit???

  3. Carol a wonderful post. I know that you have looked forward to retiring for some time. When I retired it was the people I missed, the individual interactions, being able to help and feeling needed and useful. I didn't and don't miss the long days, the beauracracy and the impossible work load.
    Your post tells a wonderful story and it is clear that you will be missed. Congratulations on your retirement.
    To bad about blogger losing your first post, but this one was great and I look forward to the next installment. :)

  4. Carol:
    Thank you for this very touching post. How fortunate you and all your students were to have found each other. As Gillian said so well, while it's easy to leave the frustrations of work behind, it's the relationships that give work meaning and satisfaction ... the "juice". They're the real reason to stick with it, and I know for sure you really gave it everything you had. Well done, and congratulations on your retirement. Blackjack must be pleased too!
    Keep on posting!
    Jock & Kitty

  5. I am feeling a little weepy! What a wonderful tribute to these students but also to their teacher who writes so tenderly about them! You and I shared the best profession! Hurrah for students and teachers who learn together! Hugs, Phyllis

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