As an EFL teacher, you may not realize how important you are to your students until you say goodbye to them. Even students who seemed unmotivated will sometimes get emotional when saying goodbye. (And in the same way, you may not realize how important your students are to you until you have to let them go.) Some students linger; others may become tearful. And still others want to say something, but don’t know how or what to say, especially if they have to say farewell in English.
The best thing you can do is to take control of the situation and initiate the goodbye’s yourself. Here’s how:
Anticipate the end of class-Right from the beginning of a new class or session, you know when students are going to leave. Quickly, you will begin to assess the personalities of your students as you plan your EFL activities. At some point as the class progresses, consider how you will say goodbye to each student. Which ones will want to just shake hands? Which ones will want to hug you and give you European kisses (a peck on each cheek)? Some students may even become anxious at the thought of saying goodbye “properly.”
Respect the need to say goodbye-As EFL teachers, we spend time on greetings and social conversation in class. What better way to demonstrate social conversation and behavior than in the circumstances of saying goodbye at the end of an EFL class? Even more important than a final lesson is that students and teachers need that final moment to officially end the bond they have formed in class. Even if there is some contact afterwards (by email), there still needs to be some formal ending to the relationship.
Take cultural differences into account-Everyone is different, of course. But there are some cultural differences that may help you decide how to say goodbye. As a rule, German students are more likely to want to shake hands at first. If they feel close to you, they may initiate a hug. Spanish, Italian and French students are more likely to spontaneously hug and kiss you goodbye. Asian women, I’ve found, are very affectionate, while young Asian men may want less physical contact when saying goodbye to a female teacher. Again, more important than cultural differences are the differences between individuals. But if you have any doubts about proper behavior, let culture be your guide.
You say goodbye first-At the final session of your EFL class, thank your students and say a general farewell. If there are students you didn’t get to know well (or you didn’t like that much), say goodbye to them first by quickly approaching them and extending your hand. Wish them luck, and that’s all you need to do. This way, those students who you don’t want to linger around won’t linger around.
Save the best for last-Undoubtedly, there will be students who you’ll want to spend an extra moment or two with. And you’ll find these are the students who will hang around waiting for that extra moment of attention. When the other students leave, this gives you the chance for that little extra hug or words of encouragement. These are the students who are more likely to get emotional and may shed a tear or two. It’s okay, and let them know that by remaining calm yourself. This way they will feel more secure in showing their emotions.
Saying goodbye to students you have enjoyed teaching is difficult. But it does get a little easier. Many EFL teachers admit that in the beginning of their careers they used to cry when students left. And later on, they could better control themselves. If helps to know that the following week there’ll be a whole new set of students needing your help.
Ilene Springer is an EFL teacher in Malta and is author of An-American-in-Malta.com.