“I’ve got an idea,” Amanda said as we sat in the evening traffic while commuting home. I looked over at her curiously from the driver’s seat and noticed her mischievous grin. “You should invite Anthony with you on that after-school activity that we’re supposed to run on Friday!”
“Anthony?” I frowned. “You invited him to the mac and cheese festival last week, and he didn’t come.”
“Yeah, but this is different!” She insisted. “That would’ve been the three of us. This could be just you two! Come on, just promise you’ll ask him?”
I hesitated. Amanda had signed us up to lead a group of our adult ESL students to the museum on Friday. This was normal. She constantly signed us up for all of these work activities. They were always really fun, we got free entry, and we even got paid for going. All we had to do was ensure that the students arrived safely. Since the majority of students were young adults, they usually wanted to ditch us as soon as we arrived at the destination.
However, when she signed us up for this particular activity, she hadn’t anticipated that she would be taking a last minute trip out west to see her brother that same weekend, leaving me to take the students on my own. This was something I’d never done before, and I was a little nervous. By suggesting I invite Ant, a newer teacher at the school, she was absolving herself of the guilt of ditching me last minute, and pushing through her masterplan of getting Ant and I together.
“I don’t know, I’ll think about it.”
The next day went on pretty typically. I went to work. I taught my classes that were being held at the university across from the museum for the summer, while most of my colleagues were teaching at the school midtown, four subway stops north. Since I finished teaching earlier than Amanda, I’d walk from the university to the school, and hang out in what used to be my office, but was now Ant’s office for the summer. I’d make use of the computer and printers and the photocopiers and get all my prep done. Ant was usually around. It’d quickly become my favourite part of the day.
On this particular day, as I approached the school, I saw Ant coming down the street headed my way. I squinted to make sure it was him, and I could tell right away by the way he swung his arms.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what Amanda had suggested. But I wasn’t so sure. Was this the person I wanted to go to the museum with on Friday? Was I ready to get to know someone new on a more personal level?
When Ant and I finally met on the sidewalk, I smiled and greeted him. He did that fluttery eye, multiple blink thing he used to do so often back then. That made my decision for me. I worked up the courage and asked, “hey, I was wondering. Would you be interested in doing an after-school activity with me on Friday to the museum? I was supposed to go with Amanda, but she’s going to be out of town.”
“To the museum? Cool! Yeah, sure, I’ll come,” he agreed. Just like that. It almost seemed too easy.
On the car ride home that night, Amanda was beaming. “Your first date!!! You have to go to Fitzgerald’s afterwards for dinner!”
“I don’t know, I’ll think about it.”
When Friday finally came around, I was a bit nervous. Was it really a date? We were just taking the students to the museum. Sure, we had discussed grabbing dinner at Fitzgerald’s afterwards, but that hardly seemed like a date. Amanda and I did stuff like that all the time, and we certainly were not dating.
It turned out that that Friday was also the end of our four week term in the new program I was teaching. On these last Fridays we gave out teacher evaluation forms in the first period, and then generally relaxed for the second and third periods. It was supposed to be the easiest day.
“Alexis, I need to speak with you in the office,” my new boss Marsha said to me that afternoon as I was leaving my last class. Her clipped tone suggested that something was very wrong. I followed her across the university campus to the small tutorial room we were using as a makeshift office that summer. She let me enter first and then shut the door behind her. I braced myself. All I wanted to do was leave and get to Ant for the activity.
“I read your teacher evaluations,” she explained. When I was teaching the general ESL program, my teacher evaluations had always been positive. My students all loved me. But now that I was teaching this higher level program, obviously something was wrong.
Fuck, I thought. This is it. I’m getting fired.
I knew I shouldn’t have started teaching this program. Everyone had warned me that Marsha was hard to work with, but I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine exactly how tough. The last four weeks had certainly been an adjustment period.
“One student mentioned that she’s not feeling challenged enough in the course,” she told me, her face stern. “She says you’re not giving enough of your own input, and that you’re not forcing some of the quiet students in the course to speak.”
I knew exactly who had written that evaluation. A Brazilian lawyer, double my age. Her English was actually very good, but she needed to pass my program to get direct entry into university. Her and her group of friends made up half of my class, and they were a very advanced and vocal group. The other half of my class were young Korean students. They were also fairly advanced, but they expressed themselves very differently. They were quiet and shy, careful to speak only when they were absolutely sure what they were saying was valuable. It was an imbalance Marsha herself had warned me about from day one. My heart sank realizing I hadn’t done a good job handling it.
“I think she’s not being challenged because the writing material is a little basic,” I said foolishly without thinking. I thought being reflective and insightful about the course content could help. I hadn’t bothered to realize that this whole curriculum had been carefully curated by Marsha.
The defensive look on Marsha’s face informed me that I’d said the worst possible thing. I was given a half hour lecture about why the material being taught in class is really only as good as the teacher. Basically, it was all my fault, and I wasn’t teaching it right. I wasn’t fired, but I really had to turn things around. I was humiliated and disappointed.
I rushed out of that room as quickly as I could, already much later than I had expected to meet Ant. I sat on the subway with my head drooped, ruminating over that conversation with Marsha. I shouldn’t have criticized the material in the writing class, but in my opinion, for my particular group of students, it was below their level. It was my first group in this program, so I had no way of knowing that other groups wouldn’t be as high level. I hadn’t been trained yet on what I would be teaching in the next 8 weeks in the program, so I could only comment on what I’d observed.
Two stops away from the school, I began feeling around in my purse for my keys. They weren’t in the side pocket, where I usually put them. Not in the bottom of the purse where they often ended up. By the next stop, I realized that in my rush to get away from Marsha, I’d left my car keys in the office. I considered going back for them later, but Marsha was the only one with keys to that office, and she left work exactly at 5 o’clock. Between meeting Ant and gathering the students and going back and forth, there was no way I’d make it. My keys would be locked in the office until Monday, and I wouldn’t be able to get home!
I got off the subway and ran up the stairs realizing that I didn’t even have Ant’s number to break the terrible news to him. I wouldn’t be able to help him bring the students to the museum, I’d only be able to meet him there. I had to call the activities coordinator at the school and let her know to tell Ant. I felt just awful. If this really was our first date, I was really messing this up. Just like I was messing up my new job with Martha. I felt like I was going to throw up.
Dejectedly, I slunk back down to the subway platform in the opposite direction to go get my keys. Sweat ran down my back while tears pooled in my eyes.
It’s funny now to think about that day, six years in the future now. What started out as one of the absolute worst days of my life ended up as one of the best. Ant was kind and understanding when I finally met him at the museum. I even opened up to him about the terrible conversation I had with Marsha, which is unlike me. I tend to keep my problems to myself. We had a good time with the students, and an even better time at Fitzgerald’s, before he brought me to a local pond in his neighborhood to see the resident swans. It was a really exciting and romantic first date.
The student who complained after those first four weeks absolutely adored me after the full twelve weeks of my program, where I got a perfect teacher evaluation with rave reviews. I now work at a job still next to the museum that pays more than double what I was making working for the language school. Marsha told me just last week that she would welcome me back with open arms.
And Ant and I are engaged to be married at the end of the summer, celebrating the six year anniversary of that bittersweet day today.