This year will be different

I spent the first day of school on an international flight from Munich, where I attended the most spectacular wedding I will ever experience. I’m so glad my nephew married a German girl so that I could visit that Bavarian city and get a taste for lederhosen and dirndls, bier gartens and trains that run on time. This is the first time in 16 years I’ve missed the first day of school and it was well worth it.

The reality check came when students showed up this morning expecting something from me and I could barely remember how to turn on the smart board. As an ESOL teacher I get to know my students pretty well from year to year. The best part is seeing last year’s students after a long summer. They look a little older, a little more relaxed and happy to be back. M.B. told me she spent six weeks in summer school, has passed all her exams and is proud to be a senior. Finally. She gave me a hug. I love the nervous smiles of the new kids in each class, the posturing of the familiar faces back for a second (or third) year of Ms. Sullivan. Poor things! And I love the excited wishes and goals that each student brings at the beginning of a new school year.

What’s going to make this year truly memorable is that I will be teaching Honors English 12 for the first time. And what happened today leaves me feeling both nervous and thrilled at the same time. First of all, they asked me how the wedding was. That means they read my letter to them. Second, most had completed the homework assignment and written a letter back to me! A couple of students even asked how to turn it in online! They were already ahead of me. (They don’t get their new passwords until tomorrow.) I quickly calculated the rapid succession of successful events that must have taken place, and I stood with my mouth agape. Or maybe it was jet lag. Not one of the 29 students asked to go to the bathroom. Wow, I thought to myself. This year is going to be a really different experience for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I love teaching ESOL. But after so many years, it’ll be a welcome challenge to work with students who already know the culture, whose language skills are developed and who understand the idiomatic expressions in my lame puns. I shared some of my hopes and goals with them and I can’t wait to read about theirs. I hope to learn from them as much as they learn from me. I have high expectations for all my students, but today I realize that these Honors students will also have high expectations for me. This is the best kind of challenge to come back to. Each of us will work hard because those around us are motivated by the same thing. Seniors. Who are motivated. This year will be different and better because of my students.

It’s hard to believe I was in Munich yesterday morning. Now can I go to sleep? Gute Nacht!


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Eva K. Sullivan teaches English Language Learners in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland. She was an English Language Fellow with U.S. Department of State during the 2017-2018 school year, working with the Ministry of Education in Laos, Southeast Asia. She writes short stories, personal essays, and has completed a memoir about her experiences as an expat in West Africa in the 1990s.

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