Louisa gripped the door handle and tried to calm her frantically beating heart. You can do this, she told herself in an unconvincing whisper. She took a deep breath, then another. It was time to go in.
The door shrieked as she pushed it open. The cacophony of the students’ voices stilled. Louisa stalled a few more moments by setting her bag slowly on the table at the front of the classroom. She took out her notebook and pen and a small box of chalk and placed them precisely on the table.
Addressing the class was inevitable. She forced a smile and lifted her gaze. “Good morning, class,” she said brightly.
Chairs scraped the concrete floor as the students rose to their feet. “Good morning, Teacher.”
“How are you?” she asked, not really sure what else to say.
“We are fine, Teacher. How are you?” was the automatic, unison response.
“I am fine, thank you. Please sit down.” Louisa stared at the students, mentally calculating the rows of desks. There are more than sixty kids! What have I gotten myself into? She kept her thoughts to herself and kept the smile on her face. “My name is Mrs. Tanner. I’m from Canada. I am your English teacher this year.”
Without a class list, a curriculum, a textbook, or even a lesson plan, Louisa was at a complete loss as to how to start. She was not a teacher by experience or education and she had certainly never taught English as a second language to students whose first language she barely knew herself. She’d been expecting at least a little bit of direction from the school administration. But upon her arrival at the school that morning, she’d been told she could teach whatever and however she wanted, and if she could provide books for the students, that would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, she hadn’t brought sixty grade seven English textbooks with her from Canada. It seemed she was completely on her own here.
“Please take out a piece of paper and a pen.”
While the students rustled through notebooks and tore out scraps of paper, Louisa started writing on the blackboard. My name is_________. I am _______ years old. My favourite food is __________. My favourite school subject is __________.
“Please write these sentences and fill in your answers,” she instructed.
The students bent their heads over their work, studying the board intermittently. Then one by one, they approached Louisa’s table with their completed assignments, offering the ragged pages to her with both hands. She received each one with both hands, a smile, and a slight nod of her head.
She checked her watch. Still more than half an hour to go. Determining to get to know the students a little bit and help them with their conversation skills at the same time, Louisa approached the first desk in the first row.
“What is your name?” she asked.
The young girl dropped her gaze to her lap and refused to speak.
Louisa asked again, “Can you tell me your name?”
The girl slumped down further in her chair and still would not meet the teacher’s eyes.
Louisa did not give up. “What is her name?” she asked the class.
She gently tilted the girl’s face upwards and looked into her eyes. “I’m glad to meet you, Haragua.” She was rewarded with a brief, but brilliant, smile.
In turn, Louisa approached every student in the class, asking their names and other simple questions about their families, their likes and dislikes. Some spoke clearly and confidently. Some made small attempts with a bit of coaxing. Some, like Haragua, were too intimidated to try. But Louisa kept the class hushed and gave each student their moment of individual attention.
And suddenly the period was over. Louisa clapped her hands to gain the class’s attention before the bell rang. With a rush of pride and relief at having filled 45 minutes, she let her dramatic side show. “Good-bye, dear class,” she said with an exaggerated wave. “It’s time for me to go now. But please don’t cry. I’ll see you again tomorrow.”
The laughter of sixty students filled the room and made Louisa’s spirit soar. She couldn’t hold back her own laugh as she packed up her bag. She waved once more to the class and then exited the room. I can do this, she whispered as she closed the door behind her. And this time she believed it.
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