Almost exactly five years ago I went to my first dinner with students. I was so excited, and honored back then that the students wanted to spend time with me. That even though they didn’t know me very well, and their English level was a little low, they were willing to spend time, speaking English, with me.
Since that slow beginning I have had dozens and probably hundreds of dinners with my students. It’s been one of my favorite parts of being a teacher; getting to know my students and spending free time with them. Besides just dinners we’ve gone out drinking together, had parties together and even done some traveling.
But long time readers might notice that recently I haven’t talked much about my students. And as my first semester at a new school is wrapping up, I thought I should share why.
My last school was located in the corner of a small city in the middle of nowhere. There were barely any foreign restaurants much less English speakers or activities that people in big cities enjoy. I would go to Hangzhou to participate in some things like the TED talks, but to do that would mean two-hours on the road and quite a bit of money spent.
So with less to do, and living on campus, I found my students to be a source of incredible fun. (And what fun we had. See this, this and this for a small sampling.)
But now I decided to make a conscious effort to stay away from my students and not get so close. You see living in a school where most of your friends also lives is a bit complicated. I always had to be “on” and be ready to see people and get invites at all hours to do things. It would always be fun, but its a bit unsettling when you’re an introvert like myself. When I go to the store I just wanna go, and not run into people and suddenly get invited out for dinner or drinks.
I wanted a work/life separation.
Sorry for my current students but that’s what I did. Here daily life is so active and I stumbled upon a huge group of amazing friends I am as busy as I want to be without being close friends with my students. Add to that that this year I am not teaching English majors. I’m teaching business students who have English as an after thought. Their level is all over the place, and some cannot even communicate with simple words. So while I’m nice to them, and will help them if they need it, we don’t have the closeness like I did with students in the past.
And that’s good. No, that’s great. I know I’m missing out on some connections and some meanings in my job, but now I’m free to go out and explore and meet new people and do new things. And while my closest friends here are foreigners, my general friend group is mostly chinese people in their 20’s and 30’s. I’m getting a whole new perspective on China and Chinese culture from them then I did with my students. Also, as my “babies” have graduated and are growing up, I get to hear from them about how they deal with the challenges of their lives. (Yes, I’m in regular contact with dozens of my former students still.)
So while I feel a little bad that my job is now “just” a job, it’s a conscious effort on my part to make sure I don’t get too lost in it. For the first time I’m treating my job like a job. I go in, do the work to the best of my ability, and go home. I’m still a stickler about teaching quality stuff and giving them an education I think they deserve, but at the end of class I clock out and don’t look back.
So, that’s why I haven’t talked about it much. It’s just a small part of my life now. And I got more interesting things to do.
(Edit–After I had written this, but before I posted it a student timidly approached me during break time and asked “I’d be honored to invite you to have a cup of coffee with me,” and of course I said yes. So it looks like I can’t remain as tangle-free as I’d like. Despite the dozens of invites I can’t help but feel honored when a student asks me to hang out, especially when they are clearly so shy and nervous about it, so looks like I’m all talk and no bite!)
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