The semester is just about over. At least my classes are finished for spring. And I don't have to deal with final exams because the department grades all the essay exams to ensure consistency throughout the courses (we have a lot of adjunct instructors in the ESL department). I have discovered just how difficult it is for students to pass the level that I teach--across the level, only about 25% pass the final, and the rest have to repeat the course. This semester, about a third of my students were repeating the class (two of them for the third time). Fortunately, most of my repeat students passed the final.
Overall, it was a good semester with only a few bumps in the road. I thought one particular student would give me a difficult time through the semester. He was a repeat student with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, he could be a little stubborn and occasionally tried to control the class. He was in danger of failing because he didn't do any of the homework, and I gave him one final chance--he had to write eight essays in a week. He came in the following week with all his work done (and it looked suspiciously good). When it came time for an in-class essay, I saw that his writing improved exponentially (my suspicion dissipated). Somehow, everything I taught showed up in his writing after one week of extreme pressure. He easily passed the final exam.
One thing I enjoy about teaching ESL at a community college is the stories I hear from students. I tend to hear more personal stories while tutoring at the writing center, but my students in class enjoy sharing as well. One of my favorites to talk with at the writing center was an Indonesian nun. She was in a level below the class I taught and she had some difficulty with grammar. Every week she came in to work, she immediately asked questions about specific points of grammar--she knew what she needed to do to improve. Her greatest obstacle for passing the class was that the essay questions are geared toward a wider range of students and she doesn't share the same experiences (asking a nun about television shows is rather unfair).
Now that the semester is over and I don't have to teach for summer, I can enjoy reading again. I'm on my third book in three weeks. I was finally able to get around to Yan Lianke's Dream of Ding Village. It's a great translated work of fiction about the blood-selling scandal in Henan province that infected thousands with HIV and AIDS. It focuses on one particular village devastated by the disease. Although there is no overt criticism of the government, the book is banned in China. I will write a more in-depth review of the novel for Terracotta Typewriter.