I haven’t been a teacher for that long a time, and nobody at university told us idealistic teachers-to-be that we kind of have to organise and book travels for our students, too – or rather, the complexity of this task for us teachers. The organizational aspect was the first challenge to overcome.
The first time (ski week, actually – me!) I felt completely ill-equipped as a travel agent/ head of class, and I must say I am still not really comfortable with this. Language weeks or cultural trips I feel I have a better handle on, if not a good one yet. After all, I teach languages, and am not a travel agent (nor would I want to be, thank you very much). Not having a school banking account for trips does not help in making bookings easier.
What I generally like about these trips is that the class grows together and new friendships emerge quite often. It is also educational for me, even though challenging later when back in the classroom assessing language skills: I do not see a student that is bad at languages when we are on a trip, as I maybe do in class, but the individual behind skills and marks and classroom dynamics. Students in my classrooms sometimes are not themselves, especially if they are shy with languages. On trips, they have room to be who they are and I am often surprised how lively, chatty and sunny they can be away from the classroom. It teaches me that I do not only teach languages, but that I deal with characters every day. I feel these trips make me a better teacher, in a way that I get to know my students and can relate to their world more easily – and maybe be a better teacher to the individual consequently.
However, what I find extremely hard to deal with is that blurring the lines can not be avoided. In the classroom, everything is clear and all the rules apply. In Rome, when the sun is shining and I am discussing boybands with my female students or we admire jewellery, sometimes they adress me with the German “du“. In class, this is unthinkable. The topics we covered on a seemingly endless bus ride once, unthinkable. Not inappropriate, but different. Out of the comfort zone “classroom“ into every day life.
I wondered, frequently, how much these lines can be blurred? Is it ok to have a drink with students you accidentally meet in the same wine bar (over 18)? Is it ok to know they will be home after curfew, coz they just missed the same bus as you did? This would be a rather friendly, cordial relationship. Will this make them respect me less if I still keep a professional distance? And how do I do this, exactly?
Is it too much to explain your personal attitude to religion when a student asks, and share the doubts and listen to his points of criticism when walking through one of the seven oldest churches in town? Is it wrong to hear students argue about gay marriage (or not) and share stories from their families and to actively listen to what they are wondering? The students’ perspectives did make me think, too, both times.
On a different matter, is it ok to push a glass of water in the hand of a student that has maybe had a beer too much? Or buy medicine for one that is sick? Or bandage their foot after they had tripped and sprained their ankle? This seems so motherly to me! Will this make them respect me less? Or will they be grateful? And how do I know?
What I know is that blurring the lines can never mean not having one. I am still their teacher. I have no idea what this line exactly means, ironically, only this. I am a teacher and they are my students. It must not be said, but acted on. I respect that, and so do they. Amazingly, most of my students seem to know exactly where my line is, and I have not had one moment in the last few days when I felt they did not.
I am a teacher. I am still human. Talking, laughing, sharing jokes and being sociable and relaxed after a full day of sightseeing and history and awesome buildings does not change that. Nor does it remove the line between both sides, teachers and students. It only makes both sides of it see what is behind the label: a person.