I fired a student on Wednesday.

No, maybe that's not exactly what I want to say.

Maybe I didn't fire her. But I did terminate our working relationship. And it's not the first time I've done it, either. Why?

I've been meaning to write this post for some time. One of my aims in starting this blog was to be honest about how teachers see the relationship between students of English and teachers of English here in Spain. And one thing I want to be totally honest about is how teachers feel about the way they're treated by students.

First, let me say that these things happen so infrequently that, if they weren't so damn aggravating, I wouldn't bring them up. Ninety-five percent of you do not behave like this; 95% of you are absolute dolls and I love you to death.

Second, I just want to speak in general terms. One of the reasons why I focus on teaching adults is that... well, we're adults. We should be able to communicate in reasonable, mature words, without being rude, insecure, uncommunicative or passive-aggressive towards each other. But there are certain things that students do that bug the hell out of me. I try to filter these things out from the start, and I won't just take anyone on as a student. (This is the reason why I'm trying to reduce the amount of teaching I do for academies: academies will take anyone with a pulse and a credit card, and it doesn't matter whether or not they're really interested in improving their English or not.)

So...again, in general terms, here are the five things that you can do if you want me to back out of our client-teacher relationship.

Cancel your classes all the time. Yes, everyone has days when they need to cancel classes because they're busy, they're travelling or they're sick. Once every two or three months is normal. Once a month is not unusual, if you have a demanding job. When you start cancelling your classes so often that I can't remember what you look like, or you only have classes once a month, you lose your classes. (That's why the ten-class bonos have a three-month time limit.) See, a cancelled class is income that is lost. Even if you pay for your classes in advance, that's time that I can't recover at a future date.

Don't talk. I know, I say this all the time. Seriously....if you could care less about talking, why are you interested in being an English speaker? (And don't give me the excuse of "oh, some people don't like talking." It's true: there are a lot of people who don't like talking because they feel that silence permits them to control the situation and keep them from making mistakes...and if the other person is made to feel weird or uncomfortable, well, that's her problem!)

Confuse English classes with confession, therapy sessions or career counselling. This is a tricky problem, because the whole idea of being able to communicate should mean being able to talk about personal experiences. Keep in mind, however, that my focus is on communication, not on any matters related to the mind, the soul or labor relations. My relationship with my (now ex-) student basically ended because the person in question is going through a severe depression which is undiagnosed and making this person's life a living hell. I don't have a problem with trying to help you with something that's bugging you, or with an issue that's come up that is driving you nuts. Six months of constant complaining, breakdowns, tears, and panic attacks means that you need the help of someone who is a LOT more qualified than I am. Especially when you....

Consistently tell me what you can't do, without focusing on what you CAN do. I understand what it's like to be afraid of learning a new skill and not feel like you're prepared to try something new. Not doing something does not make it easier. Complaining that you can't do something - ditto. If you're truly afraid of using language in a particular situation (like negotiations or giving presentations) - that's all right. Just be honest about it with me. You're not crazy if you're afraid of something, but you're a fool if you let it control your life and make your English classes unpleasant. NOT CONFRONTING A FEAR IS A CHOICE.

Treat me badly or in an unprofessional manner. I left this one for last because, I think, there are going to be a lot of teachers who have stories about this, but here's my list.

Don't ever, ever, ever, ever even think about:
- making me use the service entrance of your building (if you have one.)
- asking me to translate stuff for free. I don't work for free.
- bringing your infant son or daughter into the room where we're having classes to do potty. (I am NOT making that one up.)
- calling me after 11PM with a question. Send an e-mail.
- threatening me in any way, shape or form.
- blaming me for your lack of progress.
- asking me to reduce my prices. I am willing to negotiate lower prices if you're having more than six hours of class a week, but if you want to pay someone peanuts, call some other monkey.

In short, if you want to be treated like an adult, be prepared to treat me like one. I'm not an ogre and I'm not a witch, provided I'm treated with respect.


English Advantage said...

I'll add my pet peeve, which has happened a handful of times: Students who want to go out with me, for free, just to practice more with a native speaker. Friends are friends, students are students. I have befriended a student or two here and there and don't mind helping them with English in social situations. I have also had students who cone to class and just want to chat. But they pay me for that time.

Michelle Worgan said...

Thanks for writing this! I have suffered many of these situations myself, over the years, and I believe that teachers should be careful about who they take on as students. Of course, when you are working for an academy or company, you don't get a lot of say in the matter, but even then there is behaviour that should not be considered acceptable. It is somewhat disconcerting that a teacher ("he who can, does; he who can't teaches" as the famous saying goes) sometimes becomes a mixture of FRIEND, PHYCHIATRIST, CAREERS ADVISOR, TRANSLATOR, IT EXPERT and even DOCTOR!

They want you to be all that yet never even care to ask you how you are feeling when you have a cold, you can be sitting there almost dying of coughing and sneezing fits but the student only wants to moan about his/her own personal problems. Yes, you are paying for my services but I AM HUMAN - I want to shout.

I prefer teaching kids and one (I have lots of other reasons!)of the reasons for this is that when a child behaves unacceptably, I can do something about it. When an adult behaves unacceptably, what do you do? My colleague is suffering because a student in one of his adult groups, who is basically a narrow-minded bigot, indirectly insults him in the lessons. The other students feel uncomfortable, but obviously not enough to do something about it. In this situation (an academy), my colleague cannot just "fire" his student. He also can't really take this middle-aged student out of the class for a "talk" - this would show a kind of lack of respect. I really don't know what the solution is...

Anyway, thank you for giving me this space to rant! I too, get on really well with the vast majority of my students, and I think part of our job is to have the flexibility to be able to deal with all kinds of people. Just not when they bring their potties into the classroom!

Patricia Dawn SEVERENUK said...

Hey English Advantage and Michele!!

Thanks for your honesty and your candour in posting your thoughts.

Michelle, I know what your colleague is going through, and what he's going through is highly unfair. If you like, please feel free to have him post his experience on here and we'll see if we can help him and give him some support... FWIW, does your D.O.S. know what's going on?