Thursday, September 24, 2009

The end of the end - 寿终正寝

At 6:05pm today I ushered my last student out the classroom door and ended my teaching enterprise that began 2:30pm Friday 22 July 2005.

I still remember that first day rather well: A week after my successful marketing meeting, I went to the client's office and then received each of my seven new corporate students for a fifteen minute Needs Analysis. The true scale of what I had gotten myself into became apparent: there were a wide variety of accents, issues and backgrounds and I had claimed that I could help them all effectively. Looking back, I can't say that I would have had the ability at that time to justify those claims; and still with the experience and knowledge that you can only get through teaching over three thousand hours of one-on-one teaching, it is hard to sustain. The lesson early is that you cannot fix; you instruct, support, motivate and facilitate the changing of habits, the learning of knowledge and the understanding and application of skills. And at first, some were quite happy with their English, but appreciated the amusement of a company-supplied teacher. Such encounters taught me the need to actively find out the motivations of the students and even be confident enough to confront students or get their managers involved. Another student had significant "fossilised" pronunciation issues (this means that the influence of his mother tongue is almost impossible to be removed). I learnt a lot about such conditions and recent students from Malaysia benefited greatly from the lessons learnt there.

At the end of that year, I was already positioning myself to jump back into the common pot of "employment" but missed out on my dream job with the Government security agency. That was a blow but the reason for me even looking was the conditions of my self-employment: I was struggling with the scale of the task; I'd failed to lure any other company into a contract; and I was only supporting myself financially with two full days of work a week. That finally changed in my second year almost a year to the day after I began: I found a new client. This was just incredible. After my second or third round of intensive cold-calling, I followed a name I had snared in a research call, and after my spiel I heard the most musical words for a cold caller: "You're exactly what we are looking for!" Apparently some Swiss employee was making noises about that company's responsibilities to seconded employees and that English support should be provided. And I came knocking at that time. With him came more.

This was the beginning of a rather magical period when I'd not only created myself a fulfilling full-time enterprise, but also had a juggernaut that threatened to drive me to my own expiration. My trip to China at the end of 2007 carried with it the dream and nightmare of weekly trips to Wellington, an excess of 30 hours of weekly tuition and no-one with me to handle that teaching burden. The Wellington lessons were a possibility that came from nowhere. My second client was just the Auckland office of an international company with offices throughout New Zealand. Two seconded Croatian workers in Wellington heard from their compatriot up in Auckland that English lessons were provided to them and they made some noise to have access to the same. And after a six month struggle to find a comparable tutor in the capital, they turned to their tutor up in Auckland. The suggestion sent me to cloud nine.

I was light with delight, but heavy with dread. As it turned out the dread was unwarranted: 2008 was a magical year, if only from a professional point of view. It was also the year that I finally felt fully in control of my powers, shaking off one of my perpetual self-doubts that I was not up to the job.

I would send one student out with a handshake and heartily welcome another one into the student's seat like a doctor would to patients. My mind would grasp a sentence and isolate the fascinating issue with it, scrawling it on paper for a graphical explanation. I had students explain the reason things are so with a perfect rendition of what I had taught. Naturally, a teacher's ego can easily go to far and take ownership of their student's learning when, in fact, it is the fruit of the student's talent and work that they have learnt. But I felt immense pride in these things I saw. And the friendships I made doing it were extraordinary: What other jobs can you help and chat with friends and get paid for it?

The decline when it came was not a surprise. Over the last New Year, I made plans in its anticipation. My industry, workplace training, is the kind that prospers in the good time and struggles in the bad. My income halved between 20 February and the 10 March this year. The dying phase has been an enjoyable time in that I've been able to travel, write and learn. While it was alive, this enterprise of mine, I hoped to breathe it back into life; and now, partly on a whim, I've set it aside, asleep, perhaps forever.

Naturally, this is just the ending of one phase of life. Another one is forming for me. But it is a time to look back on the passing of this entity. It was sad to leave both rooms that for quite some time have been mine. I could literally walk in and kick out those inside irrespective of title because I had it booked! I had my own cupboard with tea-cups, tea and books. They are now forbidden ground. I'll have the chance to see some of my students again first in my farewell and some in their home countries.

This has been a special four years and I will cherish it greatly.


lightspirits said...

A wonderful story. It's interesting that even though I witnessed many of the events as they happened, and even crossed path with you in Wellington, only now do I get a sense of what they meant to you.

It was quite a pleasure reading your story.

Crypticity said...

Thanks for your comment :-)

But what I really want to know is whether I chose the right chinese phrase to title this :-p I think I'll try and set a tone with the phrases I choose. If there is a better one, 請指教 :)

lightspirits said...

Well generally you use that phrase to describe the death of something, but since you're talking about the end of a phase instead of the death of a career, it's not the closest match.

Alternatively you could use a phrase like 曲終人散, or use words like 劇終,尾聲,盡頭, which have endless ways to combine with other descriptive words.