Thursday, October 8, 2009


Twice in my life, I have seen a class fall in love. The first time was in my freshman year in college. The students and faculty members of The Evergreen State College's Democracy and Tyranny program gave our hearts and souls to our program. Our studies became our passion, and we bonded in a way that went beyond the normal classroom comraderie; it transformed our lives.

It has been 28 years since that class, and in the intervening years I have received vocational training, earned professional certification, and obtained both an undergraduate and a master's degree. I have taught hundreds of classes in various subject fields to children and adults in corporate, college, and foreign language school settings. And while I've been privileged to work with many excellent educators and some truly special students, I have never felt so bonded to a group of fellow scholars as I did that freshman year, when I was so young and eager to learn.

Until now. This evening was the last session of my beloved EAS 2 class. I handed out the certificates my students had so richly earned, and then we all went out to dinner and silliness at a karaoke club. As the majority of students were in their mid-teens, the evening ended early, and I am now home at ten o'clock, as I often am on the nights I teach. But this evening is tinged with a bittersweet flavor, for while I am happy for the time I got to spend with my students, I am anticipating the emptiness I will soon feel on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights.

The EAS, or English for Academic Success, program at Language Link is designed primarily for teens and young adults who intend to study abroad. The program teaches the reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills students need to succeed in an English-language university. EAS 1 is designed for pre-intermediate students (just above elementary ability), EAS 2 is for intermediate-level students, and EAS 3 is upper-intermediate. The program is intensive: classes meet for three hours, three times a week, and students must complete a number of challenging writing assignments, deliver oral presentations, understand academic lectures, and perform well on a pair of grueling three-hour exams. And the program lasts three months.

I remember the first night of class, three months ago, in a cramped seventh-story classroom, on a July evening that was still sticky with the heat of a Hanoi summer day. I walked in, and could sense the mixture of anticipation and dread that students always bring to the first day of school. I started as I usually do, by having the students ask me questions so they could get to know their teacher. Then I introduced an activity to get them out of their seats, and getting to know each other.

It was like unyoking a team of wild horses. The students burst from their seats with a boisterous enthusiasm that took me by surprise. There erupted a din of conversation and laughter that I am certain would have carried on for hours if I hadn't channeled them into the next activity. That night established a pattern that was to persist for the rest of the term; once they got started talking, they were impossible to shut up! This is a teacher's dream, but that first night of class, I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into.

I soon learned that I had been given a strong group of learners, with solid English skills, who were eager to absorb anything I could give them. Additionally, they were a cast of characters, each of whom brought an important flavor to the class. Like most teachers, I work hard to create a sense of community in my classes, and with an intensive class like EAS, it is vitally important to establish a sense of trust. But a teacher can only do so much. Like a gardener, a teacher can cultivate and nurture, but only nature can make things grow. With this class, the trust developed quickly, and the growing affection between the students – and between the students and me – soon became nourishing and palpable.

I don't think my students ever realized how much I grew professionally and personally. As a teacher, I had the freedom to try things out that I had never before tried in the classroom, knowing that if they didn't work out, my students would handle the experience with tolerance and humor, and move easily onto the next thing. While it takes a great deal of work to prepare nine hours of lessons every week, I frequently said over the course of the term that Language Link only paid me for preparing; going to class was something I did for fun. I frankly had nothing I preferred to do on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights.

EAS 2 became a close-knit family – something that occurs too rarely in life. I felt and continue to feel a deep sense of loyalty to my students. And if there was any question remaining over whether moving to Vietnam was the right decision for me, EAS 2 answered it. A year ago, I was in the midst of divorce proceedings and about to lose a job I honestly didn't care to hold onto. Today, I bid farewell to a group of young people for whom the experience of a class was, I hope, something they will continue to remember with gratitude when they reach my age, and recall the experiences of their youth.

Space does not permit me to give each of my students the individual thanks I would like to give them, so let me just say: Loc, Quang, Big Linh, Little Linh, Chi, Little Ha, Nhi Ha, Hai Ha, Ngoc, Trung, Trang, Hoang Anh, Nhung, Thuy, and Hien - it's been a beautiful ride, and I'm going to miss you all very much. Be well, my young friends.
Chi, My Linh, Hai Ha, Little Ha, Nhi Ha, Nhung, Loc, Quang, Trang, Trung, Big Linh (missing: Ngoc, Hoang Anh, Thuy, Hien)


  1. What a great way to start your journey as an educator in Vietnam! Those kind of classes are few and far between...wouldn't it be fantastic if you have more than one of those types of classes while you are there?

  2. I love your EAS class too :) Oh, I'm being jealous...

    One of your student :)

  3. Today, more than ever, knowledge of at least one foreign language is essential for both business-related and pleasure pursuits.Besides their supple brains, teaching children a second language is easier than teaching it to adults because children aren't afraid to look stupid.It works great when we were able to do most the work in small groups, which really helps them focus and engage more in learning.the classroom experience felt forced and unpleasant, while the language immersion experience felt relaxed and natural

  4. what a give you have had and what a gift you are giving to share your thoughts about the experience

  5. Thanks for posting the blog. I have been in Hanoi on business now for 10 days and I have 5 left. The information you have posted is very informative and very accurate.