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Class bookends, both beginnings and endings, deserve special attention. This truism becomes more important in short term summer English programs where ESL students have traveled thousands of miles to study English.
As so often, I tend to learn by stumbling. Yet, over the years, I’ve developed a rather effective last class ESL lecture around a simple theme: Make Change Your Friend.
The lesson begins with a review of changes in their own lives over the last 10 years, and small personal chit-chats with each student. I tend to focus, just a bit, on the present perfect as they write 5 questions to ask their conversation partner and classmates. Most students are in college, but a few are working professionals a bit older. Studying – and living in – Southern California has usually been a very pleasant experience. Looking back on the last day seems natural. The mood tends to be a bit downbeat as students realize that the month has flown by very quickly. We have shared many laughs together.
By zooming out a bit more, we shift the conversation to changes – social, economic, or cultural – in our native countries over the last 10 years. The students usually provide a wide range of examples. Sometimes we also indicate how we would like our countries and cultures to change.
We soon shift to technological changes – and students share their experiences with different technologies. Of course, technology continues to improve – providing an optimistic twist. Computers are faster, video editing easier, and cell phones better. The evidence for material progress seems overwhelming.
Taking this theme a bit further, I note how the many uses of medical technology. People can live longer, new hearts installed, even limbs restored. From implants to cosmetic surgery, medical devices are changing our experience as humans. Are humans changing too? We live in fantastic times – unlike any previous generation.
I proceed to review themes from previous class readings and discussions from healthy relationships and elections to changes in human reproduction and evolving definitions of marriage. With a nod toward the great science fiction film Blade Runner, I ask “what makes humans human?” Let’s be humane as long as we human, as a Roman stoic philosopher advised.
Finally, quoting former President Clinton, I urge them to embrace change. “Make change your friend,” advised Clinton to worried Americans in 1992 during his campaign. Change continues to accelerate. You can’t stop it. Make it your friend. Find a wave that you want to ride, and catch it. Make change your friend.
Then, students write down three ways they can make change their friend. It’s a positive, look forward conclusion to a short English program. Soon class ends, students snap pictures with digital cameras, and exchange emails.
We make change our friend – even if the change is ending a wonderful, educational vacation. Students say goodbye to their American Language Center friends at UCLA Extension, and bravely face the future. Their English teachers feel satisfied – and bittersweet. It’s been fun.
The journey of life continues. Make change your friend.