Bloody hell the last few weeks have been emotionally draining and exhausting. And, quite simply, so very, very emotional.
Since definitively learning that I did not secure a job I desperately wanted and believe I would have done well in, a job I have also done albeit informally for nearly a decade, I’ve been extremely busy.
Doing what? Well, *that* job.
My teaching schedule this spring has been insane, particularly this last month. From 1 to 31 May, I logged 92 academic hours of teaching, which included 7 different groups of students for specific courses and a two-day workshop on grant writing to researchers from SE Asia. I’ve also had more revision work than I normally do this time of year. Sleep and rest have taken a back seat.
This week, however, the pace slowed down significantly. In total, I *only* had two lectures: one on Monday and one this morning. Today’s class meeting, one of my largest ever groups for the advanced grant writing workshop I designed, adjusted-based-on-feedback, and taught and one of the most active classes ever, concluded. It was also a few doors down from the very first classroom I stepped into as an educator at the University of Helsinki in August 2014.
After we finished and the last students left, I took a few moments to linger and just … be.
What am I feeling right now?
Resignation. Sadness. A sense of injustice. And, gratitude. Mostly, a profound sense of grief as well as accomplishment.
One thing I’ve learned in these last few weeks is that my time in these classrooms has not been wasted. Not only have I learned a tremendous amount about the topics I have taught, I’ve also heard from so many students, current and former, how much they’ve learned and taken from our time together. Out a sense of respect for the students I have had this month in particular, I was honest with them about my fate and future, because this affects them as well. And, perhaps more than it affects me — future course offerings available to them will undoubtedly change and shift next autumn.
I’ve also learned a hell of a lot about myself, in these past few weeks as well as looking back on my evolution as an instructor. And, I have absolutely no regrets about any of it at all.
None of this has been easy. Far, far from it. In fact, this has been one of the most difficult professional moments of my life. Partially because I know it is coming to an end based on decisions entirely beyond my own control. Partially because I do not know what comes next (other than a mountain of reviewing of student work). And, partially because I have had so many last moments over the past several weeks. Lasts I’d rather not be ‘the last’.
The last class meeting on the Meilahti campus and for the doctoral programme in health sciences, the programme I initially felt most able to and comfortable working with. [The room itself was bloody awful; the kindness and support from the students were immense and powerful.]
The last two courses on the Kumpula campus, the fields I felt least capable of communicating with because they focus on things like chemistry, mathematics, computer science and (space) physics — the natural sciences. [Forgive me for thinking of space lasers and robots, but I can’t help myself.] My last courses were immeasurably rewarding and the students were incredibly kind and supportive, as well as engaged and vocal, something I wasn’t really expecting, to be honest.
The last class meeting on the City Centre campus and in the humanities and social sciences. This class was in a room with one of my favourite views of Helsinki, and was with a group which remained in the classroom for more than 30 minutes after our course officially concluded to simply talk and commiserate with me. Leaving with three of the participants, they asked me if I needed a hug, which left me just a weebit more broken.
The last class meeting this morning for students in the environmental sciences was just down the hall from where it all began for me, and the last time I’ll teach my favourite course, Grant Writing, Part II. This group was amazing. They all are, but there was something about the dynamics of this specific course that made it … work. And, as I write this now, I am bereft.
And, come Monday, I will have my very last class meeting for UH’s doctoral researchers as a transferrable skills instructor. I am dreading it.
When I arrived back home this afternoon after class, I received feedback from the first of these lasts. Here’s three snippets from that feedback:
‘Everything in this course had a clear purpose, and it was all beneficial to my learning. I know constructive feedback is important for making improvements, but I can’t think of anything needing improvement. Great course, great lecturer, very unfortunate this is apparently the last time it’s taught.’ – Participant 1, Health 135, Spring 2023
Google translate version: ‘Course instructor Vanessa Fuller is excellent at her job! Grant writing 1 and 2 were both full of information and really provided heaps of learning for real life. Vanessa’s teaching style is very good, she gets the audience interested, focused and talking. She has a positive and encouraging attitude towards every student, and that’s why the audience dares to participate in the conversation, even if the level of the English language is not perfect. The lectures are a good immersion in the necessary academic vocabulary. Since she is a native speaker of the English language, it is really pleasant to listen to her speech. I will be very sad if Vanessa cannot continue to teach these courses. These teachings should be offered to every HY doctoral student in the future.‘ – Participant 2, Health 135, Spring 2023
‘Best teacher’ – Participant 3, Health 135, Spring 2023
I don’t know what’s next. But, at least I know I made some difference, helped some of these amazing young scholars achieve their own dreams. They’ve certainly allowed me to realise my own dreams, one’s I scarcely imagined possible.