Back to School


Well, it’s happening. My colleagues and I will be back at the college campus next session, and I can’t wait! Like anything else, you do not realize the full value of something until it is taken away. The outside air hitting your face as you rush to the streetcar, the smiles and good mornings in the staff room, the student banter as they settle behind their desks. I even miss the frantic line-ups in the photocopy room because they offer what is now liquid gold;

Despite the rush of excitement, there is also trepidation. Like my students, I have found security behind the screen. How confident will I feel standing at the front of the classroom in real life? Will I remember how to use the Smart Board? Will my building keys work? Where are they, anyway? Will I remember my colleagues’ names? Will they remember mine? And finally, what will my teaching look like? Will I have strictly face-to-face classes, hybrid, HyFlex? And that last one? How will that work? There are just so many unknowns.

And what about the students?

How will they feel? The other day, I mused that many of them will have never set foot on campus. They have grown accustomed to taking their EAP classes online. Unlike us, they haven’t missed being on site, because they haven’t experienced it. According to education and technology professor Kevin O’Neill, the more online courses students take, the keener they are to continue learning virtually. Consequently, on that first day in the brick-and-mortar classroom, we will have students who may not be too motivated to be there. And the ongoing effects of the pandemic further erode motivation. Students may have lost family or jobs or both and they may be struggling with mental-health issues. Plus, the situation in Ukraine is adding to the toll. Yet another consideration is that some learners may have lost confidence, particularly in their conversational skills, given that they have been studying from home for so long.

Consequently, when we do return to campus we should be aware of these undercurrents and put extra effort into creating an environment that is warm, inviting, and motivating. We can talk to the class about their experiences over the last two years and encourage them to seek help from the school’s counselling services. We can promote the school’s organizations devoted to literacy and student success. We can also make our classes as engaging as possible. If nothing else, the last two years have given us the chance to develop a full arsenal of engagement tools; we can certainly adapt these and make them even more vibrant in the face-to-face setting. Finally, we can make our students realize the benefits of being on campus by stressing the value of:

  • making friends from around the globe and hanging out with them at break and after class
  • getting into the outdoors and moving around
  • participating in clubs and social activities
  • spending time away from the screen

We teachers also feel the effects of the last two years on our own motivation, not to mention our mental health. So, we too need to take full advantage of being back on campus, of seeing our friends, and getting back into action. Most of all, as we make this transition, we need to cut ourselves and our students a bit of slack.

I’m Jennifer Hutchison and I teach EAP and communications at George Brown College in Toronto. I have also taught courses in sociolinguistics in the English Foundation Program at Toronto Metropolitan University. In my spare time, I write short stories, read, exercise, and bake (the last two are codependent). Teaching English is my passion. I am curious about the world around me and feel fortunate to have that world brought to me every day in the classroom. Nevertheless, I took a circuitous route to discover this passion. After my undergraduate degree in French and translation, I worked as a translator and then veered off into writing and editing, which I did from home while I raised my children (four of them!). In none of these positions (except, possibly, childrearing) was I helping anybody, so I returned to school, launched my ESL career, and have never looked back. I look forward to working with you and sharing experiences and strategies on the Blog!


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