Saying Goodbye to Students

A fond farewell to my 21-22 students and a reflection on everything they've taught me this year.


This week, I had my last seminars with my two groups of master's students. While they're not my first groups of students (I taught two groups in the 20-21 academic year), they're the first groups that I've seen face-to-face every week thanks to the Covid disruptions of the previous academic year. We've seen each other every teaching week since October and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit sad to see them go.

As last year was the first year the MSc course ran, all of my allotted preparation time (and more) was given to preparing the teaching materials from limited sources, or sometimes from scratch. As such, I always felt that I was scrabbling to get the next week's content ready and trying to stay on top of my marking, and so never had the time to reflect on how the teaching went or how the seminars could be improved.

Going into this year with a full set of seminar materials created last year, I was able to spend my allotted preparation time tweaking and improving my teaching materials based on my experiences last year and the suggestions from my wonderful team of GTAs. I was more confident walking into each session this year, knowing I'd spent time preparing and improving the session plan. I also spent some time after each session making some notes on how the session went: What aspects were successful, where engagement was lacking and some ideas to improve it ready for next year.

My students this year were fabulous - I made a great effort to create a very open and informal environment from the outset, making it clear that there were no silly questions, and the students seem to thrive on it. They told me whenever my explanations weren't clear or we hadn't gone through a topic thoroughly enough, allowing me to make a note of this to improve for next year. Similarly, they told me at the end of the sessions what they enjoyed or found useful - a particular success was bringing everyone balloons and marker pens to map the different brain regions, which I've made a note to definitely repeat for next year!

Additionally, I've learned the value of spending time focussing on the students holistically. They have classes outside of my seminars and lives beyond their degree. I always made a point to ask them how they were doing with their other assignments, how they were doing, and what their plans were for Christmas and Easter break. In return, they were open with me about how they were feeling which allowed me to tailor my sessions. If it was clear they were all stressed with other assignments and had stayed up late working towards a deadline, then I'd minimise the amount of independent contributions I'd require from them and give them more time to work in groups and come up with answers together. Or if they came in really energised about a topic or a paper then I'd take a step back and let them collectively lead the session.

I also took on a more pastoral role than my job description expected. I think as a function of trying to create an informal environment so students are comfortable asking questions and making contributions, I also broke down the teacher-student barrier that naturally exists. Additionally, I'm the person they see the most often in a small group setting so we have the time to develop more of a relationship than they can with other members of staff. I felt very honoured that many of them were comfortable coming to me with personal queries and concerns, and that I was there to be able to listen to them and sometimes direct them towards more specific help.

Class of 2022 - you've been amazing. Thank you for bringing interesting and unique ideas to every session, working your hardest, always making me laugh and teaching me so much about teaching! I wish you all the best in your next steps and you always know where I am if you need to reach me.

Unbelievably touched that both groups of students organised getting me flowers, gifts and a very heartfelt card for our final session together!