At the end


In the last hours of the last days of the last week, a lone teacher wanders across the ruins of the semester seeking a place of rest. Papers flutter in the wind, obscuring the sun. Students run after the papers looking for the ones marked “A.” These papers are light and float upward on the breeze, so they are difficult to catch. It takes a great deal of skill. The ones marked “B” or “C” are easier to find but still require effort to capture. The heavier papers, “D” and “F,” litter the ground; the crowd tramples them underfoot. A few students grab them from the ground and hurry off. Many of the students ignore the teacher; one or two bump into her and move on.



She remembers silence and wonders where it has gone. A thousand voices merge into a cacophony of sound; life is a roar of demands.



She grows numb. The noise blinds her, and she struggles to remember how she got to this place and why she is here.



Three young men approach her. They smile shyly and hand her a gift: three small pyramids and a sphinx, carved out of wood. “Thank you,” they say. The words help her focus. Her eyes adjust and she remembers their faces. Two are Egyptians on their way back home; they have spent the last year studying English. Both took part in the Egyptian Revolution. They carry dreams of democracy and a better life. The third man will return to Ghana to continue his studies in agricultural engineering. He tells me he will use his skills to help his country.



The teacher’s eyes brighten. She notices a small crowd of students standing before her, some with small gifts, but all with words of thanks. The young woman from Pakistan will start a foundation to help women in her country; the Korean woman needs to finish her degree in mechanical engineering; and the young man from Belgium will pursue a career in politics once he finishes his education.



One by one the students seek her out. They shake her hand or give her hugs. The quiet woman from Jordan kisses her on each cheek. They each speak the language of joy, and the teacher’s heart grows strong with gratitude. She thanks them in return.



Looking at all their faces, she sees the world and remembers why she is here.


NASA Blue Marble (Flickr Creative Commons/NASA Goddard Photo and Video)





34 thoughts on “At the end

  1. Hip hip hooray for the teachers! Mostly, it’s a thankless job…but you, my dear, deserve a round of applause for your endless efforts to communicate in the most excellent ways.

  2. You’ve found it…Purpose! Exhaling such a powerful influence is exhausting and even tinged with some melancholy. I get it. But because of your passion to educate, you’ve imprinted something special that met each of your students, where they were at. Now, they leave you better humans than they were when you first met them. Well done, good and faithful servant. So frickin outstanding.

    • The key is that they want to learn. That’s the delight of teaching English to speakers of other languages. If I had to work with people who didn’t want to be in the classroom, I would probably burn out.

    • Congratulations and thank you for a job well done. I hope you get lots of hugs and thanks from your students. Teachers, especially of our young, are often taken for granted. I salute you.

  3. How nice that you have depicted some of the pleasures of being a teacher. There are so many pleasures… you brought some back to mind, and I thank you for them. But I imagine it must be terrible to deal with those D and F papers. Personally, I don’t know whether I could deal with such a thing. Fortunately, because I taught at the college level, I was able to ‘discuss things’ with failing students, and recommend that they leave my courses before I had to notify them of failure. I’m sure you’re a delightful teacher. I have a great love for both students and teachers.

    • One of the greatest joys of teaching English to speakers of other languages is the students’ desire to learn. Almost without exception, they want to be in the classroom learning.

  4. Blog by blog, I am finding my way. It’s really quite miraculous because I have deleted hundreds over the past few days, and the ones that mattered have landed right in front of me.

  5. I may already speak English, but I’m still learning from you every time I read your blog. One of the things I am drawn to (besides your beautiful writing) is your ability to switch gears. You begin by giving a realistic account of an inside view that demonstrates what it looks like to experience teaching fatigue, and we are nodding and empathizing and wondering how you’ll gather your strength. And then, without even noticing, we’re surrounded by dual appreciation and an expansive world view that reminds us to pay attention to our impact within the world. Every ripple creates movement, and it is up to us to make that motion matter, in whatever way we can. The world is at our fingertips. Or in this case, directly in front of our eyes, if only we take the time to read your words. Thanks for sharing this one.

  6. What beautiful word pictures you paint. Such vivid imagery of the end of a teacher’s year. I always find myself wondering if my students will take anything of value with them. I’m certain that some will, some won’t. And I’m left to clean up the flotsam & jetsam, and ready myself for the next year.

    • I don’t think most of us know the impact or effect we have made in our students’ lives. I know I didn’t always tell my teachers how much I learned or appreciated them. And even the ones I don’t remember helped lay the foundations for the knowledge I gained later.

  7. Lovely post. I have a little lump in my throat as I remember that we’re both here.

    A few years ago someone asked my what my major achievement was, what I would offer to God or the Creator or whatever awaits me at the end of this sojourn, I thought about it for a few days, There were a lot of flashy things. Exhibitions, a couple of brushes with the law involving handcuffs, a lawsuit won and changes made afterwards, perhaps a drowning averted ( who knows … maybe the kid would have made it ashore over the reef) … a lot of stuff which looked impressive …. but then I realized deep from my gut … it was my piano teaching. It was those little fingers on the keys … the delighted smiles. The little boy who looked up at me in amazement after playing a few measures of his first Mozart minuet.

    “Miss …. it’s MUSIC …” he said, eyes alight.

    Yep …. that’s exactly why we’re here. And there’s no greater privilege than to be a teacher.

    • Thanks for your soothing words. We held the memorial service for my husband’s daughter, his second and the last to precede him in death. While we celebrated the twenty-two years of teaching, we heard from so many students, parents, and colleagues who spoke of her gifts to them. Thank you for teaching and for adding to our special thoughts about Rebecca.

    • What a great story – helping a child make music. It’s the same as teaching a child to read and opens up the wide world to him or her.

      You sound as if you have an impressive list of accomplishments, but I agree that helping someone else achieve their goals or dreams has to be one of the greatest.

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