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You see one another often. Sometimes, it can be just the two of you. You share details about your life. Maybe you find you have things in common. The world of the adult EFL classroom can make it easy for professional relationships to morph into romantic ones. But should teachers follow their feelings of attraction? And if they do, what then?
Before going further, I should say that I’m talking about the relationships which happen in EFL language classes between adult instructors and adult students – not teacher-student relationships in a university context. Although college students are considered adults, a greater disparity of power exists between a student and the professor he or she is dependent on for future success, with such relationships often resulting in a clear abuse of power.
The nature of EFL, especially one-to-one lessons, doesn’t follow this pattern. Yes, the teacher has expertise, but when you’re teaching a person who is educated and employed, quite possibly as a highly-trained professional, parallels between educators in a university setting are harder to draw. More often than not, the student sees the EFL teacher as someone to practice English with and the success of a course depends on how the two personalities gel, which leaves the relationship open for other possibilities.
When classroom crushes become more
Kate is a teacher from the US. Her Czech partner started out as a student, though their relationship appeared to have little impact on either the lessons or Kate’s position within the school.“We were only in a relationship for the last three months of the course. There were three students in the group, all colleagues and friends, so I think they were all fine with it,” she said.
The school appeared not to mind. In fact Kate thinks the school saw the relationship as potentially improving Kate’s visa approval. Because she left the school, it was impossible to answer how the relationship affected her teaching in the long term.
“If I had stayed with that school I probably would have asked them to find another teacher for the group to keep the personal and professional parts of my life more separate,” she said.
Ben also met his Czech wife in class. She was part of his evening English course. Classes would often continue in the pub and in what he described as a ‘whittling down’, the two of them were the only ones going to the pub and were soon dating.
“She tried to keep it a secret from her classmates just because she didn’t want to be the one dating the teacher,” he said. Despite their efforts, people in the town knew, but no one seemed to mind.
On the other hand, Ken had an earlier ‘fling’ with a student. He described seeing her in class after that as ‘awkward’ but as he was not grading her he felt the brief encounter did not affect the teaching.
What do the schools have to say?
Skřivánek was one school which responded to a request for an interview. Their senior methodologist Jana Kadlíková said that the school did not have in its guidelines a specific point which addressed teacher student relationships.
“As part of company culture we prefer informal relationships, which thanks to our registered method EFFECTO we have implemented into our teaching, because a stress-free environment based on a friendly relationship between the teacher and student is always motivating for both an individual and for the whole group,” Mrs. Kadlíková said.
If the nature of this relationship develops into another type of relationship, the school believes this is a question purely for the individual people involved. Skřivánek didn’t specify what that ‘different relationship’ could be, though the question was clearly about romantic relationships.
The relaxed attitude toward EFL teacher-student hookups was prevalent with most of the schools I contacted. Pavla Pohořálková said that her school, Glossa, has no official policy either and added they were tolerant of such relationships.
“As with our teachers, so with our students, they are adults and independent people. We leave similar decisions entirely up to them,” she said, stressing she did not mean students who were under-age.
Tereza Cingrošová from Jipka said that these outside relationships are not monitored, nor were their existence a priority. In her experience such relationships are not common and the school is more concerned with the professionalism of its staff.
“In the seven years I have worked in this company, during which thousands of people have gone through our classrooms, I experienced only one wedding of a trainer with a client,” she said.
The lack of policy or even concern was echoed by other schools I contacted. Reading between the lines, it would seem that if the romance doesn’t disrupt the teaching or the class then it is tolerated.
And, yet, there are exceptions…
Kadlíková mentioned the one major exception.
“In the case of company clients [those students whose employer is paying for the courses], for whom as part of the study group a teacher-student relationship wouldn’t necessarily have to be favorable,” she said. The school would be especially concerned if the relationship favored a student’s promotion. At the same time, the school sees a friendly relationship as important to both teaching and client satisfaction.
The tolerant attitude of schools shows a realistic approach to feelings. Yet, like any work place, the EFL classroom has certain expectations on how those feelings are expressed. A romantic relationship that takes place in a professional environment is not without its professional pitfalls. This context may not be as ethically murky as the ones where the teacher is clearly a figure of authority, but it still doesn’t mean that entering into that relationship isn’t stepping out of the boundaries of an understood relationship – and it’s not just the student’s interests in question, which is why I would compare a romantic relationship in this context to other ‘office romances’. Love is getting mixed in with work.
The people we spoke with have shown that dating a student from an EFL class can work out well and even lead to marriage. However, if that relationship affects other aspects of teaching then it might be time to move to a different class or organize an alternative teacher for the student.
*Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
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