The Mucky Side of the Coin

Activity Being Procrastinated: showering
Music In My Head: Save The People – Godspell
Tea: fruity green tea (I forget the name)
Books Being Read: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet – Reif Larsen

Don’t get me wrong: I fully understand why our society has rules which forbid educators from getting personally involved with their students. While the urge has never taken hold of me, I can see that it would be easy for someone to abuse their power (and for someone to fall victim to said power). It would also, I would think, be very easy to mistake one emotion for another.

But the fact is, teachers are heavily involved with their students. You can’t spend that much time with someone and not get sucked into their lives.

No, I’m not screwing my students.

But one of them got me crying.  It seemed just as intimate.

Part of the problem was that I just “clicked” with this student. She’s an older woman who is my godmother’s doppleganger – just with an accent. I don’t usually have a great deal of success tutoring adults (they’re all gung-ho about learning English until they realise it’s gonna be a lot of work) but this lady is serious and dedicated. She signed up for X number of classes – because that’s what she knew she could afford; she would only take a certain amount of homework each week so that she could be sure of doing a good job on it… which she did; she was always 5 minutes early for class, and she never asked if she could pay me later.

Oh, and she’s funny. “Ant?! I just call my mother’s sister a ant? She gonna roll over in her grave at me! Help me spell this proper – and quick!”  We did spell it “proper”, but not before she paused to cross herself.

If she doesn’t understand what I’m on about, she says, “I love chu, too.”

I looked forward to her sessions. We talked about everything; I know all the small details about her day, her life. I know how happy she was the time she stumbled upon a music festival in downtown Toronto and realised it was a band from her own country that she used to listen to when she was a teenager. I sympathised when I heard that the band members were no longer as “warm – no, ‘hot’” as they once were. We went way over-time last week because she (after making me wait while she concentrated on the grammar for several minutes) came up with this awesome thought: “My country is very poor, but we are culturally rich. The same cannot be said for Canada.”  She said this because her workplace hadn’t provided free counseling to the workers after there had been a gory accident.

So, the other night, when she told me that one of her sisters is dying of cancer, and she asked me to help her explain the situation in English, I ended up crying right along with her.

Of course, the other part of the problem is that I feel the same way about my sisters as she feels about hers. Sisters were another thing we talked about a lot. And there’s no way I could even contemplate one of my sisters having cancer.

My student is going to take a little break from learning English. She had every intention of continuing, but I pointed out that I would still be here in three months, and that the English language would not have evolved noticeably. There is a sister and a couple of parents that need her to spend my fee on a plane ticket, instead.

Eventually, she agreed. She’ll give me a call when her life settles down.

All this made me think about how wrapped up I can get in my other students’ lives. There was another woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer; she came to see me right up until the day she started chemo because she, too, wanted to be able to discuss the problem in English. She needed me to give her the words, she said. I also get drawn into problems at school or home. Students vent to me, I think, because I tell them that one must communicate the thoughts in one’s head (it’s that whole language thing). I have learned some rather disturbing details about parents’ fights and overheard phone calls and financial difficulties.

(By the way, your children know everything. Don’t be deluded into thinking that you’re keeping something from them. And don’t think they’re not airing your dirty laundry.  Your only hope is that the teachers keep their mouths shut.)

The ethics of teaching are really difficult to slot neatly into compartments. It’s challenging to get so deeply involved with someone’s brain and ignore their body: when a child’s teacher died, I felt like a complete shit for not hugging him. But it’s safer to follow society’s rules, even if it goes entirely against human nature… and my nature… and all reason.

I wonder if Victorian society, when deciding that sex was a bad thing, considered the butterfly-wing effect that would crash into North American education some 200 years later. Perhaps they were hoping for the extreme. Victorians seemed to like absolutes and extremes.

Next, there will be a rule about crying with your students, no matter what they tell you.

I hate being human. In my next incarnation, I’d like to be a cat, please. A cat with sisters. Lots of cancer-free sisters.

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