By Salima Satani
I remember the last day before March Break very well. The Minister of Education stated that all schools would be closed until April 5th due to COVID-19.
My level 5/6 learners at Overland Learning Centre, TDSB kept on asking me, “Salima are we coming back to school?” And at that point all I remember saying was “I’m not sure what’s going to happen and I have no idea when the schools will reopen.” The obvious happened, we did not return to the physical school site, however we met virtually online.
My first point of contact with my students was over the phone. I told them that we would have online classes and I would send them an email to arrange everything.
I wanted my first email to my learners to be special and I did not want to over bombard them with too much school work. I also wanted to ask them about their well-being. So I created an email which was both comforting and educational. In the email I sent to my students I shared the idiom ‘we are all in the same boat’. I wanted to let them know that they were not alone and we were all in this together. I received many replies from my students full of appreciation and thankfulness. Some were excited to join online and others replied saying that they could not attend the classes as they were taking care of their kids but still wanted the lessons emailed and would learn in their free time. For those who wanted to engage synchronously online, we connected through Zoom.
Connecting on Zoom took a bit of time, initially! Zoom was a new platform and there were many challenges; internet connection issues and technical challenges including volume checks, background noise and camera concerns. When we finally met on Zoom and saw each other face to face we were so happy and excited! It felt really good to see my class once again.
We immediately bonded and were excited to have our class back, even if it was online. At this point, resiliency came into play. We had a plan. I told my learners to register for a couple of online learning platforms and check out some English websites. During the three months of online learning we had engaging and meaningful discussions, sang songs, discussed stress and time management strategies, we read stories together, and they learned how to write emails and toward the end of the term the students did amazing presentations.
On the last day of class, the students were very appreciative and thankful for the online classes we had. The students told me that they wanted to meet again over the summer so we also decided to meet virtually for coffee and desert in July, which we enjoyed very much!
Salima Satani, ESL Instructor, Overland Learning Centre, TDSB CLB 5/6
From a learner’s perspective: My name is Fortune and I came to Canada in September 2019 from Cameroon. I started in Salima’s class in February 2020. Personally, I think my English is pretty good but after I registered for Salima’s class I realized how much I learned. On the last day before March Break we were all talking about Covid-19 and how terrible it was. We were not sure what was going to happen. I remember drinking coffee and asking Salima if the class would open after March Break. She wasn’t sure.
COVID-19 ruined my plans. It was so boring at home. Nothing to do, nowhere to go and no classmates to talk to. After March Break finished I really wanted to go back to class but it was closed.
A few days after March Break finished my phone rang one morning, and when I said hello it was Salima. I quickly stood up and jumped with joy! It was so good to hear her voice. She asked me for my email address and said we would learn English online. I was so happy. She was genuinely concerned about us. I liked getting her emails because she gave us a lot of encouragement and good English learning information with excellent tasks and website links. But the best part was coming to meet everyone on Zoom. I felt like we were in the classroom. We laughed a lot and that really helped me. We learned so much online about grammar, how to write emails and we did presentations. We talked about how to be resilient during COVID-19. Salima gave us plenty of information on how to reduce stress during this time. I really enjoyed the class. My favourite part of the class was when we sang songs. Singing songs online with my classmates and teacher was wonderful.
Salima also planned a one on one end of term interviews with every student to discuss our progress.
On the last day of school in June, I was sad because the class finished. Salima prepared us for the summer and told us we could register for summer classes. But I did not register because it was 3 hours a day on Zoom 5 days a week and it was too long for me and I did not want another teacher.
I am ready to go back to school in September now that the government has decided to open schools. I wonder what it will be like.
Fortune Tonzeu, ESL student in Salima’s class at Overland L.C