Whether or not I like my students is unimportant. Some of them are good people; some of them are bad people; most of them just sort of are. Wherever they fall, they’re all the same once they walk into the classroom. Good or bad, sometimes they say absurd things. One time one of my students proposed that “Western people are lazy because they demand overtime pay, unlike Koreans, who have excellent work ethic”. Had I taken the time to process that, break it down, and explain to her that this was absurd, I would have sprouted a few white hairs in the process and she’d still think the same thing. It can be difficult for me not to out students as complete fucking idiots when they utter things like this, but instead either silently accept that they are idiots and move on with the lesson, or accept that perhaps they’re not idiots and that various factors which are beyond their control have contributed to what I perceive as a demented World view. Whatever it is, it is what it is, and I consider it part of my job to accept it, ignore it, and just teach English.
Students, whether they are good people, bad people, or somewhere in between, occasionally ask more of me than what I consider appropriate. This is largely a cultural thing. With very few exceptions, I find it bizarre to socialize with my students outside of class – even though they’re all, technically, adults. I do it from time to time, because I tend to just roll with the punches here, but I don’t love it. Hanging out with students generally makes me feel like I’m working on my free time. Once I’ve thrown somebody into the Student Box, it’s very, very difficult for them to crawl out and find their way to the Friend Box. As evidenced by recent events with a former student, boundaries are a good thing.
The first day this student walked into my class, I didn’t like him. It wasn’t anything that he had done, yet; it was that I immediately hate almost all old men here on sight. While this is surely the result of numerous incidents over the last couple of years in Korea that involved poorly socialized (by my standards, of course), repugnant old men, I have no issue acknowledging that this is completely prejudiced. In truth, I teach many older gentlemen, and they tend to be no better or worse than the rest. Rationally, I know this. Yet, I continue to hate them on sight, and eventually get over it once I get to know them as individuals. I am what I am.
After a couple months of this particular student walking into my class, he still rubbed me the wrong way. I dealt with it, because one-on-one lessons are good money for the school. It’s my job to teach English; it’s also my job to make sure that students continue to want me to teach English. I dealt with it, because while he seriously creeped me out, it’s not important that I like my students and he hadn’t really done anything truly inappropriate. Yet.
Over those couple months, Creepy Married Student’s behaviour got progressively weirder. Some of this was the result of how I perceived his behaviour, due to cultural differences. Some really was him being fucking weird. First there was his request to call me his daughter. Then there was the never ending flow of gifts. English lessons interrupted by his sharing of family photo albums. Setting up dinners with his wife on class time. Trying to give me an envelope of cash as “allowance”, like I was actually his child (while I refused to take it, I probably wouldn’t think less of somebody else if they took it). The weird emails about family values, how to live a beautiful life, individualism is bad, and a bunch of loopy hogwash that I can’t be bothered to repeat, which he undoubtedly found on some cult website somewhere.
In the beginning, I visited my supervisor and alerted him that this student was more than just a little bizarre. I made it clear that I wasn’t trying to get out of the lessons; the student had already told me that he was going to quit if he had to deal with another teacher. I was merely sharing that this guy was seriously weird. I followed this up by reporting every other bizarre thing that this guy did. His behaviour became a bit of an inside joke between the supervisor and myself.
Then the student got needy. I hate needy people. Their constant need for approval. Their inability to do anything without reassurance. Useless. Creepy Married Student noticed my refusal to move him out of the Student Box and questioned why I couldn’t return the “family love” which he was apparently extending. I wrote him back to inquire if he wanted me to correct the English grammar mistakes in his email, seeing as that is actually part of my job and all. Creepy Married Student responded to this by getting increasingly needy (Hate. So much Hate), writing creepy poems, and finally confessing that he previously had romantic feelings for me which he had pushed aside for the more appropriate, “family love”. He didn’t seem to see anything wrong with writing this, and proceeded on with another poem about “beautiful life” and a request that I please correct his English in my response.
Fuck That Noise. Class over.
After immediately forwarding the email which officially crossed the line, (as well as all of the other borderline ones which work was already aware of) to my supervisor, I made it clear that I could not teach this guy again. It wasn’t even a choice. The second I read that email, I knew that the jig was up. I could no longer put on the Yay, This School Rocks, Show Us the Money show that I’d been performing so well, and he could no longer contact me.
Within about 12 hours management completely sided with me, canceled the class, and advised me that if he tried to contact me again they would take care of it.
Boundaries are beautiful.
Saving emails is always a good idea.
As is informing your superior of any peculiar behaviour from your students, long before there may be a real problem.
If you’re never anything less than completely professional, people will be less inclined to question your character.
More than anything, I was lucky. If I worked for a sham hagwon with a sham management team, they could have insisted that I continue teaching the class. There probably wouldn’t have been much that I could have done about it. I would have put my foot down and job on the line over this. I did all the right things, but still needed to be lucky.
It was a good month.