I glance around the room anxiously. My students are writing a test. All I can hear is the turning of sheets, the rubbing of eraser against the page, the squeaking of desks as they write. Overhead the dull fan is our ambient noise. I can feel their nervous energy radiating off of them. Their sweaty palms holding up their wrinkled foreheads. Their backs hunched over their curling pages. Their feet shaking in distress. It makes me nervous too. I’ve already chewed off two fingernails, and it’s not even lunch yet. I want them to succeed. I want to be freed. A security guard position would be a terrible fit for me.
25 minutes left to go. It’ll feel much longer than an episode of my favourite sitcom, though. In here time moves slow like molasses. Sometimes I swear I can see the second hand move backwards on the clock. I sneeze. Nobody offers me their blessings. It’s not personal. Some of it is cultural. A lot of my students come from countries that don’t say a thing when someone sneezes. The students that come from countries that do probably didn’t hear me anyway.
I’m invisible to them. Almost. They know I’m here still. Watching. Glancing up from my notes every few minutes to look for wandering eyes. Unusual behaviour. My ominous presence is the reason they’re not cheating right now. I’m their Big Brother.
It’s funny how quickly it feels like I’ve gone from being the student to being the teacher. Some days it’s hard to take in. Some days I see myself much more in them than I do in myself. But somehow I’m now the lady at the front of the class. Sitting in the fancy chair. Drinking my cold coffee. Exempt from taking the test, thank God. But I’m still daydreaming like I used to. I’m still bored like I used to be.
My students, however, aren’t just your average students being forced through the public educational system like I once was. My students are international students in a pathway program to learn Academic English and get into a Canadian college. Some of my students are teenagers, just barely out of high school. They’ve been sent here by their parents to get a higher education. Some are reveling in their new found freedom while others are homesick and jetlagged. Some are culture shocked. Some have immersed themselves and adapted to the culture almost completely.
Some of my students are older. There are those in their 20s and 30s. They usually have careers and education in their own countries and have decided to upgrade their credentials. Or choose a new field all together. Some of them are parents. Some of their children are in Canadian schools. Some of their children have been left behind, to come when their parent is more established.
Regardless of my students’ motivation, I admire them all. I can’t imagine uprooting my life and leaving my country for any reason. It’s something I’d love to do, but also something I know that I cannot do. It’s too scary. Too risky. Especially having to do it all in another language. No, that path would not be for me. They’re braver than I could ever be.
“15 minutes left.” I issue the warning. It triggers some sharp breaths. A cough from the back corner. Their hands are moving faster now. Time is almost up.
Once they finish writing, my real job begins. That’s when I have to start procrastinating the marking of the 12 paragraphs that are being written under my supervision. Eventually, I’ll have to do it. I’ll have to meticulously mark the grammar. Judge the development of ideas. I will agonize over wording comments and suggestions carefully, so as to not offend but aid my students. Those suggestions aren’t always read and even less frequently employed. I wouldn’t listen to me either. But I still gotta try to get through to them. I’ll always try.
And thus is the life of an EAP teacher.