Friday, June 09, 2006

Dinner with great company...

I just had a most wonderful evening... I was invited by my graduating class to dinner this evening (more strictly speaking yesterday evening as it's now past midnight) at a casual Italian restaurant just up the road from where we're based. This is the last week of their academic year - indeed their academic programme - and the class got together for a final hurrah before they all set off for the summer to finish their individual theses, and they've invited all the key course staff (all four-person-strong) to the dinner as well. In the event I was the only one who could join the students, and what a treat it was!

These people will be my first ever full graduates on the programme that I both manage and teach (I had a previous graduate class but they aren't my "full graduates" in the sense that I haven't taught them from the very beginning of the two-year programme), and I'm so lucky to have met with the nicest bunch of people you'd ever come across in a professional Masters' programme setting, who have been so nice to me in so many ways...

I was completely green when I first started the job, and my attention initially was diverted to the then Second Years, amongst whom a few were complaining a lot because I represented an abrupt change in their programme (since they had a variety of instructors before me in their First Year). So it was almost like entering a battle field to go into the classroom to teach the Second Years in the first week of every month, for the students as a group were quite suspicious about any new assignments they had to do and any new changes to the delivery format, even when those changes were precisely what they have demanded in course evaluations (though to be fair, individually they are lovely people and I became good friends with a few of them, and it was really nice to see this class graduate with the most straight passes on their dissertations compared to the previous years of the programme before I came on).

So compared against that, I always felt a palpable sense of relief in the second week of the month when the then First Years (now the graduating Second Year class) came in, because with these guys I got to mould their expectations and set ground-rules and standards from the very beginning. There's a level of trust that we've developed over the two years that allows me to experiment with different teaching methods I picked up from workshops and conferences. In truth, they are my "guinea pigs", and I have been most blessed with their generosity in putting up with me not only by being willing and even enthusiastic participants in adopting new ways of running interactive class sessions, but more importantly, by actively encouraging and being supportive of me throughout the two years, even when the going gets tough. I shall never forget the comments I received from their course evaluations, such as these:

"[Module Name] was quite difficult to get into first, but once I get the hang of it I really appreciate all the hard work that [My Name] has put into the course"

"[My Name] is excellent! She is very supportive and very helpful, and always available to answer queries. Her written comments have been invaluable."

Their really, really kind comments almost made me cry. Especially because I was going through some very tough negotiations with my department at the time, which wasn't giving me any of the support they promised, nor indeed appreciation for the work that I've put in to systematise a badly-run administration system and revamp my module which improved the number of graduates with straight-pass dissertations on the programme. I hung on to these encouragements from my Second Year students, to remind myself the reason why I am doing this, my raison d'etre for being here.

What made me really grateful, is also the fact that these students never ever, not once, made my ethnicity and my age and indeed my inexperience an issue, in spite of the fact that most of them are far older than me and way more experienced than I am in the field (as our programme entry requirements are targeted towards middle to senior management in the field). Even though there are quite a number of Asians working in senior clinical positions in the field these days, they must have felt a bit surprised when they saw this young Chinese girl standing before them teaching a non-clinical subject. However, being down-to-earth, open-minded people that they are, they just got on with the class. They thrashed me when I presented too much information (yes I really get the message now guys!), but it was all done very constructively and they similarly take my feedback - both positive and negative - really well, and came back and ask for more, just as I did with them. In short, they are honest with me and I with them, in a way that not only doesn't cause offense but help enrich our mutual understanding. We shared some genuine good laughs in the class and I'm glad to see this carried over to our dinner itself, which was casual and a lot of fun. They are a great bunch of people and I learnt so, so much from them.

So I want to end this tribute to my lovely students by saying, "Class of 2006! You're, like you said yourselves, the best Second Year students I've ever had!! I will never forget you folks! Thank you for helping me develop as a teacher. Thank you for all the fun times we shared. Thank you all sooooo much for everything!!!"

p.s. And thanks very much for your lovely Kilkenny ceramics gift :D It'd be perfect for my new apartment! (if and when I get one!)

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