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Dangerous liaisons

March 26, 2005

We've all met them. They're young, handsome, newly qualified and out to see the world. John is just one more young man using his English teaching certificate to help him travel before he settles down. He's done a stint in Mexico, in China and now he's in Eastern Europe. Of course all his female students adore him. But John is too professional to become entangled with a student. But he's just discovered that situations can get very nasty despite his good intentions.

In his new class, one student, let's call her Olga, quickly fell under his spell. She was always waiting after class to ask him to explain something. John's only human and he was flattered by her attention so when she asked him to join her and her friends at a restaurant one evening, he didn't see any harm in it. Only there were no other friends and Olga made it clear that it wasn't just food on the menu. John dealt with her firmly but politely saying that teachers were not allowed to have relationships with students. He left the restaurant.

The next morning the Principal called him to her office. Olga had complained that he had sexually assaulted her and was threatening to go to the police unless John was sacked. Although the Principal believed John's version of events, the circumstantial evidence against him was grim. Other students confirmed that he often stayed behind in the classroom with Olga. John was so upset that he decided to resign in order to save the school embarrassment.

But what should he have done? Well, clearly, it's not a good idea to stay on in a classroom with a student of the opposite sex. He should also have reported the girl's infatuation to the Principal as soon as it was obvious and he should have asked another teacher to go to the restaurant with him if he still thought it was okay to go.

Maybe none of these measure would have deterred Olga, but at least they would have made it more difficult for her to make false allegations. What advice would you give to young men like John, I wonder.

Back soon. Patricia.

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  1. Darryl Says:

    This is a very sad story. Luckily, jobs in the ESL world are not that hard to come by.

    John should have made a big show that he was not interested in her to his students and the administration. Of course in hind sight we can say that he was naive to stay in the classroom with her, but he was probably not on his guard. It`s pretty understandable. What he really needed was some advice from the administration about dating and how to avoid problems with his female students. They are the ones that should know their country and the potential problems good looking young men can get into. This is what academic directors are paid to know. Unfortunately most dont know their jobs.

    I think the blame should not be put on the young man alone. Her aggressiveness in making false accusations show that she is not such a nice person. If he was older and more experienced he maybe should have stayed and fought the charges against him depending on the quality of the justice system in that country. Of course he quit to avoid any legal problems and not just to avoid causing problems for his school. But sometimes the fight is not worth it and sometimes it is worth it. I had a crime commited against me in a classroom in a mideast country and decided not to fight it - but I am older now and would probably fight it now.

  1. Pete Says:

    Ludicrous! I'm presuming Olga is an adult, then why on earth shouldn't they have an affair/friendship/marriage or whatever? People have to meet some way. Classmates, workmates, in a nightclub or bar, people meet all sorts of ways. What they do outside the classroom is of no concern to the school, they should just be discreet about it.

  1. dennis lowrimore Says:

    I made the mistake in Korea of inviting shy girl to a tea shop just two minutes from the school and was accused of trying get her to be my girl friend. Was soon transferred. while in a korean hospital for a month in deep pain, strange food and no english spreakers, the hosptial asked an 18 year old english speaking girl patient to translate for me and when she spent too much talking with me the whole hospital was soon gossiping and was put on an economy seat plane still in pain and shipped out. Never will I return to Korea to teach.

  1. Carl Says:

    Sounds like this person has a lot of hindsight to evaluate! Some people you can be a little extra friendly with and some you can't. You have to know your personal limitations and be able to judge the other person's as well.

    I had an employee once, a very attractive young woman, who acted as if she had a crush on me. Did she? I don't really know. But she came by and laughed and chatted and gave me big smiles. One day she invited me to come to dinner with her at her friend's place. I was ankle-deep in work and not really paying attention, so I agreed. I have always been friendly with my employees. Later, when I came out of my work fog, I realized what that could mean and told her I could not make it after all, but was grateful for the invitation.

    Doing something stupid, innocent or not, could cost a person his or her job. Why take the chance? In some cases it can mean more than just job loss. What if this girl had said something bad about me? That could mean losing my wife as well! It's best sometimes to just avoid the sticky situations.

  1. cynthia Says:

    What if the tables were turned...what if it was a girl who met with a student or talked "too long" with a translator? Anyone experience or advice?

  1. john shirley Says:

    Sadly it is very difficult to resolve these kind of situations. I have been a teacher for more than 20 years and although neither young nor particularly good-looking, I have had my share of difficulties with students (of both sexes)who will not settle for a professional student/teacher relationship.

    Be aware that the motivations of students are rarely what they seem to be. Clearly many of these difficulties arise because of cross-cultural misunderstandings about what is acceptable in relationships. Unfortunately the whole issue is laden with stereotypical perceptions about teachers. Infatuations are rarely sexual since most cultures frown on sexual relationships with 'foreigners'. This can mean that teachers are sometimes regarded as 'forbidden fruit'- particularly fascinating to young women who want to appear westernised or rebellious.

    In many cultures seeming to have a special relationship with teachers confers status on students who appear to be favoured. This has more to do with competition between students than any fatal attraction associated with the teacher! Although blameless the teacher can find herself involved in situations which often result in jeolousies and animosity being played out in the classroom and beyond.

    Also, be wary of students bearing gifts or attractive offers of meals, house visits etc. In many cultures gift-giving is a reciprocal arrangement. It is regarded as a perfectly normal means of gaining preferrment in tests, exams and everyday classroom interactions.

    Advice? Get familiar with local customs as soon as possible. Be friendly and courteous. Decline offers graciously so no one loses face. Keep everything public and learn to see beyond obvious motivations. Treat students fairly and equitably.

    Good luck!

    john s

  1. maureen Says:

    I suppose John is really an ideal teacher for Olga that made her awestruck. Every girl experienced infatuation especially to their teachers. And that's very human. I believe John has already sensed that Olga meant something else right from the start and he should have done his part to let Olga feel no personal thing will be entertained in whatsoever situation they are in. The more that John spent time with her beyond the supposed class, the more that she would think he was also into something beyond the teacher-student relationship. There is nothing wrong with building good relationship with students; that's also a way of showing the true mentorship that should have taken place in any educative process. But that's the danger of just having a teaching certificate without solid foundation of what education really is. I believe John was really professional in dealing with her but there are some points John missed out as a true teacher and educator. In situations like that, he should have consulted person in education authority like the Principal of the school where he was teaching. He could have asked the principal of some related instances/cases that happened in that school. I think it wasn't the first time that happened there, the fact that the principal accepted and believed John's version of the story. It appeared to me that, that situation didn't just happen once. I can say that the ESL teachers should not only have the knowledge and techniques of teaching the language but they should also have a strong foundation in educative process. That, I believe, will save them from such problems when dealing with the students.

  1. Dennis Says:

    Here is my general advice on this matter. What any teacher can do about speaking with infatuated students alone in the classroom is NOT TO DO IT. You should courteously answer their questions AS YOU SLOWLY WALK TOWARD THE DOOR AND HOLD IT OPEN FOR THEM. If they still don't get the message, WALK OUT OF THE ROOM. Pretend you have somewhere to go. You could walk to the office or anywhere else where the student cannot follow. And you can politely but firmly say that you have something to do and can speak with them next time. You have to give them the message that the time between classes is YOUR TIME, and that a question outside of classtime is an INFRINGMENT ON YOUR PERSONAL TIME. Part of being a good teacher is being firm, but fair, with your students. They appreciate it ( really ) and will respect you for it. I also agree that talking to an administrator is a good idea, especially if these polite attempts to nip it in the bud don't work.

    About John himself: assuming he was not interested in Olga ( which I'm not convinced of in view of his actions ) it is all his fault. Maureen said, "I believe John was really professional in dealing with her..." No. Staying in the classroom time after time with an infatuated student is NOT professional, even if you ARE interested! He was trying to be nice, but what he really did was be weak and encourage her ( supposedly ) unwanted attentions. Come on, people, this is RELATIONSHIPS-101! John NEVER should have agreed to meet her if he was not interested, with or without her friends. That's not nice, that's just DUMB! Some would say even MEAN - you get the hopes up of the infatuated party, and then you shoot them down. Even outside of the workplace that's a DUMB thing to do. WHAT A MESS! John got what he deserved.

    I do agree with Maureen that if you have a strong foundation in the educative process, it will save you from such problems when dealing with the students. Unfortunately, most ESL teachers are recent college grads with no work or real life experience. On top of that, they recieve no training at all before they begin teaching and living in a foreign country and culture. That's the sad part of our industry. Teachers learn the hard way, in the trenches. And they too often get burned.

    My final piece of advice to new teachers: Use your common sense! And always assume that the new culture you are in is considerably more conservative than the one you grew up in, and act accordingly. Misunderstandings happen very easily, so you have to be very careful. Don't do what John did. BE FIRM BUT FAIR. Thank you.

  1. mohamed al dawy Says:

    John`s experience is something like an act of God that one can not expect or avoid.As a foriegner he will always be at an arm`s length from the locals.Yet , he is young , smart , an axpatriate, and A TEACHER, which is a real attraction to Olga and other girls.More than a quarter of a century ago I was a teacher and I was about to fall in similar situations , but lukily I didn`t.However, firls like Olga will always try to find other victims>That is why the principal believed John`s version of the story which really seems to be true.

  1. Dennis Says:

    This posting is in response to the posting by Dennis Lowrimore. I recently taught in Korea for 18 months. I sympathize with you and your experience at the hospital. Although some may think this is a very extreme reaction by the Koreans, let me assure anyone reading this that Mr. Lowrimore is not exaggerating. If the Koreans decide that they don't want you, they will trump up any charge or allegation to have you fired and/or deported. Many times, the reason is simply to avoid paying a teacher what they should. I have seen it many times. I would assume that Mr. Lowrimore's hospital incident happened in a small city or town ( if Mr. Lowrimore is reading this, I'd be interested in knowing what city the hospital was in ). In Seoul, where I was, there are many Western male teachers dating Korean women, and this practice is accepted as part of the life there, even though many Koreans don't like to see this. About the 18 year old patient, I'm sure her age was the reason for all the problems, even though she is of legal age of consent in Korea. Perhaps the parents complained to the hospital. Unfortunately, that would be enough for the hospital to take action without even speaking to the accused. Too many times in Korea ESL teachers are treated as a commodity, like books or desks, that can be hired and fired and traded at will. Just recently, I myself was lied to by a Korean school. They did not obtain a work visa for me as promised, they lied about my immigration status, and then I was dropped like a hot potato and deported with only 4 days notice. My advice for anyone in Mr. Lowrimore's or my situation is to REGISTER WITH YOUR COUNTRY'S EMBASSY AS SOON AS YOU LAND IN THE COUNTRY, be it Korea or Kazakstan. Then if something happens, you'll be on file and you'll get much quicker action when you call. Also, at the first indication something may be fishy, call everyone you know and don't know for information and advice. The school I was with had a good name and rep. So when they told me the first lie, I believed it and didn't check it out on my own. If I had, I might have prevented my deportation. I was lazy and payed the price.

    Mr. Lowrimore was less than careful when he invited a student to tea SO CLOSE TO THE SCHOOL ( Oh, Dennis... ), but I can tell you that if he was living in a small town, dating his students might have been the only option. It can be difficult for young foreigners to meet a guy or girl in a small city or town. We are only human. We need companionship. Of course it's frowned upon, but you can't stop romance from happening by making a rule. Romeo and Juliet? I myself taught in a small town in Japan. The only women I could meet in such a conservative and orderly community were my adult students. "WAIT A MINUTE!!!", I can hear some people saying. "IN YOUR OTHER POSTING, YOU TALKED ABOUT PROFESSIONALISM AND HOW TO AVOID ROMANTIC APPROACHES BY STUDENTS. YOU'RE A HYPOCRITE!" Not at all. John was not interested. But what happens when you ARE interested? And the student is too? And you are lonely in a small conservative town in a foreign country, with few - if any - true friends? LIFE HAPPENS. Now, I've heard many young teachers say that a rule against dating your students is "STUPID!" and they will just ignore it. Well, the fact is that if your school has such a policy, YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT. The reason for these rules is to protect the school's reputation with all of their students and to keep a professional image. ESL Schools realize that teachers will date students. What they want is to keep it discreet and out of site. So, if they ban such dating, then teachers are forced to hide it. DON'T TELL, DON'T ASK is the policy. Warning: cavalier behavior toward the rules that affects the IMAGE of the school will get you in trouble and fired. The important thing, as I said in my last posting, is to BE CAREFUL. As for myself, when I first arrived in Japan I was very professional. I did not want to jeopardize my job and reputation. I did not socialize with my students except on school organized outings. I was 3 months into my stay in Japan when I realized: I WAS MISERABLE! I was very lonely in a small town with no friends or social life outside of school. And I realized I could not meet women outside of school. It took me another month to get up the courage to ask a student for a date. This was a woman that had intrigued me from our first meeting. My feelings grew for her week after week, and so did hers. Also, I sensed that my school did not STRONGLY frown upon this kind of thing. So, I asked her out. Of course we both were careful not to parade the relationship at the school or even in our town. JUST BE CAREFUL. In my case, I'm convinced that my school DID know about us, but we were careful, so they never said anything too either if us. I consider myself lucky to have worked at this school. Of course, every teacher has to feel things out for themselves. ( About the girlfriend, we stayed together for 2 years and we are still friends today. ) Thank you.

  1. Erika Mascarenhas Says:

    Dennis, I understand the Olga part of what happened to you. I am Indian and in Pune, where I live and work, we have a lot of foreign students.I was 22yrs old at the time and in order to avoid any trouble I had introduced myself as 28 yrs old, married and mother of a boy. I had a student from Yemen who joined us 2 weeks after the course had begun and so I would stay back after class to help him catch up with what he had missed. He was, in fact, 3 yrs older than I was, very handsome and he learnt quickly. I will admit that the first few days I had to try very hard not to let him know what I thought of him. A week after he joined he came up to me and said, " I know you are not married and you are less than 28 yrs, so why did you lie?" I did not know what to say. I laughed and told him to stop being silly. He wouldn't back off. He would insist that he had difficulties and needed extra time with me after class. He would keep asking me questions about my personal life. I would tell him only what I felt was alright for him to know.This went on for a while. I would teach him after class and leave. Eventually I refused to talk to him or listen to him about anything that was not related to the class. He got the hint and backed off. I was lucky because this is my country and he was the outsider.
    A similar incident happened another time with another male student but this guy was sweet and today he is a good friend. He has returned to his country but still keeps in touch. You have to learn to tell the 'sweet' ones from the 'bitter' ones. Most of us find ourselves in such situations. I think you did what you thought was best. However, it cost you. Everything happens for the best and now you know to be more careful. It's different when you deal with kids and when you deal with adults.
    All the best to you.

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