Sep 5, 2018
Conversational English lessons can and should be handled in the most professional way possible, but if your student is coming to you for the weekly attempt to maintain their language level, not engaging in business English or hardcore grammar practice, it can be hard to stay distant. At this point, a more relaxed approach may be necessary but finding a happy balance between the straight laced and laid back can be challenging.
For those of us who work mostly independently, these connections to students are of vital importance for our livelihoods because there isn't a guaranteed income at the end of the month. If we miscalculate and offend a student, we can wind up in pretty dire circumstances financially, depending on the student and the level of offense.
What's worse is when you're in a small enough town that you keep running into people who used to be your students and now, for whatever reason, aren't. It can be awkward, embarrassing, or completely uncomfortable depending on how things went down before and where you happen to see them.
So what do you do?
This is my facial expression when I see a former student unexpectedly.
Do you smile and wave and pretend everything is fine? Do you completely blank them or turn around and run? One of the biggest issues I have with being foreign in Japan is the
lack of anonymity. They can spot you right off. There is no blending in.
Well, as someone who has been doing this for a decade, I usually start by reminding myself that there are thousands of reasons to quit lessons, most of them not being a slight at my teaching style or abilities. I repeat these ideas to myself when the back of my mind screams that these are the ones that got away and that I must be useless as a teacher if, after ten years, I cannot retain every student.
If you have this voice too, even if you only just started teaching, tell it off. It doesn't deserve to exist. No one retains every student. That's why bigger schools have a number of different teachers to choose from-- so that when one teacher doesn't match well with a student for whatever reason, another might.
Even so, it is hard not to take it personally when lessons dry up or when long-term students quit. It isn't weird to wonder where it went wrong, but when you happen upon the student in a public place is not the time to ponder this. Instead, focus on the task at hand. I usually let the student take the lead here unless they were really horrible, though I do limit any conversation to a few pleasantries and quickly remove myself.
Just go with the flow, and treat people as professionally as you can. Or blank them and avoid them until you're far enough away.
What do you do when you see former students?
A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.