Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Goodbye, Student #1

On February 2, 2006, approximately 3 months after I quit my office job, I taught my first private lesson in about 10 years with student #1 from my referral agency. I went on to teach her 63 more times after that. I'll have my last lesson with her this evening.

As my first student after 12 years of working in a Japanese office, I'm sure she endured some of the bumpier roads of my teaching technique though I doubt she could tell. I can say that she was the person for whom the vast majority of the custom material I wrote for the Home Sensei was designed for and used. Her level was just the right mixture of passive competence coupled with assertive incompetence to require such types of structured discussion.

When you teach in your own home, teaching isn't just a matter of exchanging words and guiding a student toward better speaking. It's also someone coming into your place as a guest and, at 64 visits, this particular student has probably been in my home a great deal more than any friend I've ever had in Japan. We've shared a cup of tea or coffee and discussed her current life events every single time.

By it's nature though, a lesson isn't the same as a social visit. It carries all the trappings of one but it's a decidedly one-sided affair. While I tidy and clean the place, serve drinks, and give my guest the most comfortable place to sit and we chat amiably, I mainly ask her about her life and ask questions while she mainly answers questions and asks few of me. This is, of course, generally how it should be since the whole point is for her to practice English, not for me to jabber on about myself. This does, however, tend to be the reason why it's hard to develop sincere friendships with people who you meet as students. The experience, even when you encourage students to question you freely, is often quite one-sided.

This particular student's departure was one that I knew would come some day and I knew it was going to be sooner rather than later as the clock was running out. She told me long ago that her husband, who works for a very old and famous Japanese confectionery company, is transferred every two years. Since I taught her for one year and ten months, I've been with her for most of the tenure she's had in her current location. Her husband is often transferred on very short notice (two weeks) and she has to scramble to sever the ties she has to work, friends, and English teacher as well as pack and get ready to go.

I always tell students they can feel free to e-mail me or stay in touch when they've stopped taking lessons after we have been together for awhile but, they rarely contact me. I'm not sure if that's because the ties that bind a teacher and student are relatively transitory and weak or if it's because they lack confidence in their English writing skills or if they simply feel it'll put me out if they write.

My fancy teacups. R.I.P.

The odd thing is that I recently broke the tea cups that I started using regularly at the time that I started teaching privately after my prolonged absence. Prior to that, they had been collecting dust for the most part as they were too fancy for general purpose use. At the time that I broke them, I felt it was a bit of an omen of some change in continuity to come. Of course, it could just be a harbinger of increased clumsiness on my part. ;-)

Update: It turns out my student not only is moving but she's also pregnant so, even if her husband hadn't been transferred out of Tokyo, she would have had to stop taking lessons.

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