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...to not want to be friends with this woman, and to ignore her calls and emails? (take 2)

(39 Posts)
eslteacher Sat 15-Oct-11 18:46:07

I'm a language teacher, and spend most of my days having one-to-one conversation-based lessons with adults. In the vast majority of my lessons, the atmosphere is a friendly one - since I have to encourage conversation, naturally my students talk about their lives and I end up telling them a little bit about mine too. That said, with 99% of students our friendly relationship starts and ends in the classroom - I never see them outside our lessons. Everyone understands the boundaries.

However, there's one lady who I've been teaching once a week for over a year. She seems to be able to draw no line between our friendly classroom relationship and our "outside" lives. From the start she has been inviting me to do stuff with her outside the lessons. I have always made excuses, but remained friendly in the lessons because I have to keep teaching her and if I were to just say outright "I don't want to be your friend outside these lessons" I think she'd take it very personally and it would be horribly awkward.

Another reason I am reluctant to spell this out to her is that she has had a very hard life, particularly recently - illness, deaths of people close to her - plus some really horrible stuff further back in her past. She has talked very openly about all these things in our lessons, cried on occasion, and of course I've felt compelled to listen, give sympathy etc. I have never invited her to talk about these things, but she does nonetheless, and when she's literally sat there crying next to me, I have felt that saying "I'm sorry it's a bit inappropriate for us to be discussing this" would just be impossible for me to say.

At one point she told me she was organising a big party. And of course, she wanted me to go. Since she invited me to this party over half a year before it was actually due to happen, I couldn't exactly say "sorry I have plans for that day" so just made vague "that sounds nice" noises, thinking that I'd get out of it closer to the time. But she would literally remind me every week, saying how much she wanted me to go, how disappointed she would be if I didn't. In the end, I thought it would be easier to go than not go and then face the fallout in our lessons afterwards. So I just made a brief cameo appearance (with excuses why I couldn't stay for the full party), which she seemed satisfied with.

Anyway, finally we have come to the end of our lessons together. In fact she wanted to rebook, but my company have made an excuse on my behalf (as they know I was starting to find her difficult to deal with) and told her they are obliged to send her a different teacher from hereonout. She immediately contacted me and left a very very long message saying how disappointed she was and how she hoped it wasn't at my request that they're sending someone else, and how she wants us to still be friends and to meet up soon etc etc. She has also since friend-requested me on a social network, but I haven't responded.

I feel very uncomfortable and am not sure how to proceed. On the one hand I really don't want to foster a friendship with this woman, but on the other hand I'd feel like a heartless bitch if I just ignored her calls and emails (of which I feel certain there will be more). The other option would just be to phone or email her and tell her "I don't want to be friends with you" but I think this would hut her enormously and TBH I'm too much of a chicken to say it.

So what should I do? How should I proceed? Am I being a bitch for having made her think I am her friend and then just blanking her? Or is she being the unreasonable one for not having realised by this point that I don't want to see her when I'm not being paid for it? I feel bad because she is quite a vulnerable person, although seemingly not without other friends and family.

(I posted this earlier but it was pointed out with a little too much identifying detail, so previous thread has been deleted and I've tried to include less detail here. Thank you to those who replied previously - I found the mix of opinions has already given me a lot to think about)

LoopyLoopsPussInBoots Sat 15-Oct-11 18:50:31

Just ignore her, she'll figure it out soon enough.

Clearly she really likes you and wants to be your friend. Since you don't feel the same way, I think you should be honest with her.

People tend to say that they don't want to be honest with people because they don't want to hurt them. I have always found this to be a cop out. Ignoring her might be easier for you, in so far as you don't have to have a difficult conversation, but it isn't sparing her feelings at all. She'll be hurt and baffled. It doesn't spare someone's feelings and avoid hurt when you try to ditch them by ignoring them and avoiding them.

At least if you are honest, she knows where she stands. She may very well still be hurt, I'm sure she will. But at least she will be clear.

FabbyChic Sat 15-Oct-11 19:15:56

Didnt you like the responses on the other thread? Is that why you had it deleted.

You have over the past two years listened to her personal life when there was no need to do so, you have become a kind of counsellor of sorts and been there for her, you have acted like a friend now you want to say fuck ya.

You yourself could have put a stop to it at the beginning but chose not to.

Shame on you.

Oh. There is more to this then?

eslteacher Sat 15-Oct-11 19:21:17

Um, no I deleted the other thread because the concensus opinion of other posters on the thread was that I had revealed too much detail. I already said at the bottom of my OP here that I appreciated the different responses I had already had.

CombineArvester Sat 15-Oct-11 19:27:11

Obviously it would have been better to have been cooler in the beginning and if you don't want to be honest mean say your employer has strict rules on being friends with clients / favouritism etc.

Now you have to say you are really busy at the moment with x,y, z. You are really sorry but you are already struggling to meet up / stay in touch with the friends you already have, you hope she will okay and wish her the best of luck with everything, but you really don't feel you will be able to stay in touch.

I have done this and had it done to me, and I think it is much kinder than just ignoring.

eslteacher Sat 15-Oct-11 19:35:54

Hectate - thanks for your reply. You made a really good point - I think that the issue for me is a combination of the fact that I feel bad that I will hurt her (especially as I could have avoided doing so by handling things differently before now) but also that I don't want to suffer the horrible conversation of spelling things out to her. Especially as she cries at the drop of a hat, and is sure to do so in this situation. But you're right, I probably do owe it to her, since I have previously tried all manner of subtle hints and avoidance that just hasn't worked. Sigh.

Fabby - again, I appreciate your response. I agree I should have handled it differently, but I struggled given that I was contractually obligated to keep seeing and speaking with her every week. I suppose I should have just kept repeating that I couldn't talk with her about her personal life...but the fact is, in order to do my job I basically do have to do that, it's just that she revealed a lot more than I ever prompted her to, and often completely out of the blue along with tears and a lot of emotion...now its obvious that it would have been kinder to somehow tell her it wasn't appropriate to tell me that stuff, but at the time it felt like the kind thing to do was be nice to her. Anyway, I've certainly learned a lot that I'll be bringing to bear on any similar cases I encounter in the future (I am new to this job so had never had this experience before).

RandomMess Sat 15-Oct-11 19:39:23

Could you explain that as you may teach her again in the future that you need to maintain a professional teacher/student distance even though you are not currently teaching her?

I didn't see your other thread so I am going just on the information here - but this is a lesson for you. Don't engage your students in personal conversation, in order to maintain boundaries. I mean - nothing beyond the superficial. If they are having problems, refer them to appropriate support. I don't mean be callous or don't chat or anything, but be clear who you are and what your role is. Then you don't risk such kind of blurring in future.

mercibucket Sat 15-Oct-11 19:43:57

don't beat yourself up over it, it happens. you've only been teaching her for a year and only socialised outside work once with her? no big deal - she'll get over it. personally i'd tell a few lies - you aren't allowed to be friends with people on facebook etc, the company discourages meeting outside the workplace etc, but you'd love to stay in touch blah blah and then just keep it vague. If it were me, I might think about meeting up with her every now and then, she sounds lonely, but perhaps she is giving off a more intense vibe and you fear her electing herself your new best friend?

Tortu Sat 15-Oct-11 19:46:33

Or, don't know your working environment, but if your work within an examination system, you must be linked to a college somehow. Is there a counselling service provided with this? It sounds as though she is incredibly needy and vulnerable and may actually want to be referred.

Fixture Sat 15-Oct-11 19:47:31

It would be unkind to suddenly cut her off, as she clearly now believes you are friends. Wish her good luck for the future and say your priorities now lie with your next intake of students.

Could you also gently point her in the direction of a counsellor?

EssentialFattyAcid Sat 15-Oct-11 19:51:55

You could say that you have enjoyed teaching her but that you feel that you just don't have enough time in your life for even your close friends at present and that they have to be your priority.

eslteacher Sat 15-Oct-11 19:58:07

The problem is, if I don't engage my students in conversation about their life, their experiences and their views I can't do my job very effectively. In order to learn to use another language to a high level, you have to practice using that language to talk about stuff - real stuff. I have to spend hours at a time encouraging people to speak. Of course they talk about professional stuff and academic stuff and the news and hypoethical situations, but it's inevitable and unavoidable that people also talk about their lives and experiences. As I said, with 99% of students they just know where the limits are and never take it too far. It's this one student with whom things have been a problem. I haven't approached things any differently with her than I would with anyone else. So though I know that if I start sensing I have another student like this one on my hands, I have to do something differently - it's not as easy as saying I should just shut people down as soon as they start talking about something non-professional.

Hectate - my OP is basically the same as the other thread but with less specific detail about this woman. I'm not trying to paint myself in a more flattering light in this one or anything.

Random / Combine - yes I could but I think she'd argue against anything like that and just not really accept it or take it on board. She's done this in the past when I've given reasons I can't do various stuff with her. She just keeps pushing on and on and coming up with ways around my exuses. So I think my options are either just to ignore her completely, be brutally honest or actually accept her social invitations...

runningwilde Sat 15-Oct-11 20:03:31

It sounds as if she has decided she wants to be your friend come hell or high water and you really didn't do anything wrong in your class so don't feel bad about giving wrong signals as it doesnt seem like you did.

You should not feel bad about not wanting to be friends - just ignore, ignore or make excuses and leave her to get the message. It is not your problem so don't feel bad!

Ah. My mistake, sorry. When you said that they talk about their lives, I imagined that you meant a lot of personal information being shared and an atmosphere that is more like friends and confidantes than anything else. ok, then you don't have to disclose your own personal information do you? That could be the boundary? There has to be something that says student-teacher and not mates.

RandomMess Sat 15-Oct-11 20:13:31

Perhaps you need to be blunt but just along the lines of, sorry but as a professional teacher I do not mix with students or ex-students socially, my apologies for not making this clear in the beginning and then block.

eslteacher Sat 15-Oct-11 20:22:17

Usually conversation about personal lives is along the lines of "what did you do at the weekend?", "how was your holiday?", "what did you eat for breakfast", "what type of films/music/food do you like?" "what are you doing for Christmas", "descibe a family member/your home/your best friend" type stuff. Usually I get the innocuous answers you'd expect, some people share a little more than others, that's fine. I generally end up sharing some stuff about me, e.g. where I went on holiday, which town I live in, an anecdote about something amusing that happened to me at the weekend or whatever. But somehow the same types of question to this lady provoked responses with a lot more detail about her (very difficult) personal life than I could have expected...

Actually she was never that interested in me - she'd ask me questions but not listen to my answers, she generally cut in and led them back to herself (which is obviously fine in terms of the fact that it's her who needs to practice using this language, not me). She doesn't know much about me except the basics.

runningwilde / mercibucket- thank you, your posts make me feel a little less like an out and out bitch.

Fixture Sat 15-Oct-11 20:30:12

I'm not sure she would accept "I can't mix with students". If the teacher and students are all adults why wouldn't they be able to socialise?

Most people just know boundaries, like you said. You just need to have an approach that ensures you are protected from the few that don't. When you talked about it being exchanges of personal info, I clearly had a totally different idea of what that must be.

When you said you share personal stuff, I assumed personal stuff. where you went on holiday etc is the sort of superficial stuff I was suggesting. So forget it cos that's what you ARE doing grin

you're not a bitch. If you were a bitch, you wouldn't be agonising over this.

But you really are going to have to be honest with her, aren't you? It's probably not going to go away.

Allboxedin Sat 15-Oct-11 20:49:39

I am also a language teacher (TEFL). I don't teach at the moment as I am a SAHM but I would loathe one to one lessons. Much preferred a class of at least 4 students. I have had similar situations, have tried to keep it all very cool and not too personal but I know there are students who want to learn English and students who want a bit of councelling/friendship on the side. I also know how it is working in a private language school where there tends to be a lot of pressure on you to do exactly what the student wants as they are paying for it!! (Not sure if you work in a private school?)
I don't think you mean to be a bitch and I think you are right in not wanting to get too involved as it can have consequences on your work and profile. (Have also had very two faced students)
I am guessing the student is from overseas or do you teach another language?
If not English could you say what nationality?
Student is possibly lonely and vulnerable and just wants some friends so lets hope she makes some others soon.

thegruffalossecretlovechild Sat 15-Oct-11 20:52:45

Um, sorry you are the professional in this situation and should be able to learn when to divert the conversation from any subject that becomes too personal without it becoming detrimental to the session. This is coming from someone who is prone to spilling out their entire life story to all and sundry and I am conscious that I probably put people who are only doing a similar job they are paid to do in an awkward position with my burblings. You are not qualified as a counsellor and should learn to redirect conversation when it becomes too personal and also deal with awkward situations like this. She seems to be in a place where she is feeling quite vulnerable so is looking to rely upon those
people that she considers to be her support system. Unfortunately by not dealing with this sooner she feels that she can rely and look to you for support and friendship. In my job there is a clear differentian between what is acceptable "banter"/ subjects open for discussion and what is the actual
purpose of the conversation. This means we can have a minute or so of chat before focussing on the relevant subject. The banter doesn't mean that we consider each other to be confidantes.

I do feel for you as you have acted out of the goodness of
your heart and in trying to fulfil your professional duties. However I think you need to make it clear that you do have to comply with professional ethics and, as such, you cannot continue contact with her outside of the professional setting. I can see how easy it can be for the lines to be blurred and hope
something can be worked out without you feeling too awful and for her to be able to move on.

ilovesooty Sat 15-Oct-11 20:56:08

The problem is, if I don't engage my students in conversation about their life, their experiences and their views I can't do my job very effectively. In order to learn to use another language to a high level, you have to practice using that language to talk about stuff - real stuff. I have to spend hours at a time encouraging people to speak. Of course they talk about professional stuff and academic stuff and the news and hypoethical situations, but it's inevitable and unavoidable that people also talk about their lives and experiences

I did a language in an adult class at night school for six years and don't recall any conversation that would have crossed personal boundaries as seems to have happened with you and this student. I'm sorry, but it's still my opinion that you let this get out of hand and you need to put an appropriate professional distance between you and this woman now.

ameliagrey Sat 15-Oct-11 21:05:56

I think you are guilty of that old favourite "mixed messages".

You have probably given her the impression that you care for her.

Yes?

It is possible that she idolises you or has put you on a pedestal too for some reason.

It is also possible that she is manipulative, finds it hard to make friends and knows exactly how uncomfortablle she is making you feel.

If you can't be honest with her, just ignore her calls and emails. she will eventually realise why. Or if you can't do that, just repsond to invitations with a "no thanks. I can't."

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