Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Funny True Story from My Teaching Past

My first semester of teaching Spanish at the college level was pretty hard for me. I was only 25 and my students weren't that much younger. I also had a lot less experience than I do now, so I had no idea how to deal with most of the issues that arose on a regular basis. Even though I wasn't much older than the students, they kept seeing me as this substitute parent figure and kept asking me for advice on all kinds of personal issues. It was a Beginners' Spanish class, and to help students improve their writing skills, I asked them to write short diary entries on a regular basis. One day, I read the following entry from one of my students:
My boyfriend goes to school in another city, so I don't get to see him often. And now this really cute neighbor moved into my building. I really like him and he likes me. Do you think I should sleep with him?
Of course, I was terrified when I read this because this is not the kind of a decision where I want to be providing any advice to students. So I responded saying that it was her decision and she should do whatever was best for her. Next week, I received the following entry:
So I followed your advice and had sex with the neighbor. It was great! But now I worry what will happen if my boyfriend finds out.
If she worried about that, I think I worried even more. Imagine how the conversation between the student and her boyfriend would sound: "How could you cheat on me??" "Well, my Spanish teacher told me to!" I spent the rest of the semester terrified that the irate boyfriend would show up in my office demanding explanations.


Pagan Topologist said...

This is funny! I don't think I have any such stories in my teaching experience. Or, maybe, I just don't remember them.

Or maybe students only ask Spanish teachers such things, not math teachers?

Clarissa said...

In language courses, we have to talk about families, relationships, personal problems, etc. As language teachers we are also trained when and how to reveal details of our prsonal lives to the students. So, of course, students feel like they can tell us some very intimate things. :-)

Catherine X said...


This is assuming, that the boyfriend was indeed sincere, trustworthy, and honest to himself, and to your student. For all we know, as much as this lady was unfaithful, that guy must have been a trickster (who might be busy using some other lady in the other city to get his work done), or he could be falling back on this relationship with ulterior motives (or sleeping around with other women) - then it serves the LOSER right :)

Distance in relationships can bring out the worst streaks of opportunism, and selfishness in an individual.

Being responsible, truthful, and sincere - stems out of upbringing and character (that is not transient). If my assumptions are right, then it sure is good riddance to bad rubbish.

DM said...

@Pagan Topologist: Same here, we don't talk about personals issues with undergrads (graduate students are a different issue: we work in the same lab, teach together, etc.; yet I don't think any of them would request advice on relationships).

Clarissa said...

DM: for me, this part of the methodology of foreign language teaching has always been the most challenging. I always tend to cultivate a distance with students because it's what feels normal to me. But in my methodology seminars we were practically forced into doing it. :-)

It's easier with grad students because they are usually older and more mature.

Anonymous said...

I remember, when I was learning danish and german, I would always make up entirely random stuff when I had no choice but to talk about myself. My classmates and professors must have had a truly bizarre picture of me.

Having said that I had long assumed that everyone gives fictional biographical details. It wasn't until I had nearly finished those studies that I realised my classmates were actually comfortable with that kind of sharing