First Day Back

Back to Class
Source: Jason Goodman on Unsplash

As the streetcar lurched toward George Brown College, I gazed at the familiar storefronts, churches, and coffee shops that lined the route. How could everything be the same when it felt so different? I was nervous, panicked even. After all, I hadn’t taught in-person for close to three years. I berated myself for checking off the box to teach on campus. Wasn’t it easier to stay enclosed in my basement lair? I rechecked the supplies in my backpack and pulled out the instructions sheet for the tenth time. Offices have moved here, photocopiers are now there; do this if you need to print something, do that to access the computer system. Ughh.

I arrived two hours early so ventured into the coffee shop near the school. I was instantly greeted with hugs from people I knew. Man, that felt good! It’s funny how the pandemic has made us appreciate these most simple of gestures. At the counter, I greeted the barista as though we were old friends and blurted that it was my first day back. He smiled politely.

Off I went to find my classroom. It warmed me to see students running up the stairs, jostling and calling out to each other. The door was locked, and no security was around. I dug through my bag, forming a teetering pile of supplies in the hallway traffic and fished out a key with a mildewy-green tinge. Magically, the door sprung open. And there I was. Just like it were yesterday.

I went straight to the desk where the computer taunted me with its flashing log-in button and entered my credentials. But I was swiftly greeted with an error message. I checked my password and typed it in more carefully, but again it didn’t work. No! I glanced at the clock and my nerves jangled. My whole lesson was built in cyberspace and without a computer, I would not be able to teach it. Again, I wondered about my choice to do this in person.

After a quick call to the building’s tech team, a young man with a kind face arrived. He noted my worried expression and told me that everything would be fine. A student ambled into the room, glanced at me, then slumped onto his desk and fell asleep. Meanwhile, the tech agent tried this and that before shaking his head. Apparently, I would have to call the help desk to update my password, and I was looking at a wait time of at least forty-five minutes. I told him that my class started in half an hour. With a faint shrug, he put his phone to his ear and mumbled that he may or may not be able to get me a code from someone in the tech department below. I conjured up a solitary figure in the basement, hunched over a computer with a glean in his eye as he debated whether to surrender this code.

I dialed the password desk and as I waited, a preternatural calm flooded in. I have markers and a whiteboard. I can teach without a computer. Of course, I can. As I was hanging up, a voice came on the line. And just like that, I was into the system. The tech agent looked relieved, but I was almost disappointed. After three years of stressful technology, what could be better than going back to the basics?

I thanked my tech friend and waved goodbye. It was time to get to know my students. I leaned against the front desk for a chat. I looked at their expectant faces. Oh, how I missed this! Then I grabbed a marker and started teaching.

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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