Blurred lines

I’m sure many teachers working in language schools can sympathise with that end of term feeling, and perhaps even more keenly, that ever-so-slightly desperate end of academic year state of being. Exams have been completed by students, duly marked, returned and feedback has been given. It seems obvious that all that needs to be said has been said. Let’s end on a high note, go our separate ways. Feel the love…..and move on.

With a spring in my step, I approached my first class of that day a few years ago, certain that no one in their right mind would drag themselves to their English lesson at 8 o’clock in the morning at this late stage. There were lie-ins to be had (for them, at least), warm weather to be enjoyed and the perfect opportunity to take a break from routine, for heaven’s sake. But, I hadn’t counted on the student that until now I had perceived as only slightly odd, who apparently felt it appropriate to make an appearance, even though the sell-by date of this course was long gone. And so naturally, sitting in my classroom as I arrived, was the 17 year old girl, who had made me feel slightly uncomfortable, for reasons I didn’t fully understand, since the previous October. But, hey, she was just an awkward teen, this wouldn’t be too bothersome, right?


It all started innocuously: pleasantries were exchanged and I gently enquired: “so….what would you like to do today?”.

“Oh, just talk”, she replied casually.

Over a decade in this game has taught me one thing: it’s easy to keep a conversation going with an oddball – simply bombard them with questions about their preferred topic.

So, we began to talk about her relationship with her dog. As you do.

“He’s my best friend”. Really?

“We sleep together “. Okaaaay.

“No one understands me like he does.” Oh dear – her previously oblique references to her psychologist came flooding back. Doggy issues?

I moved on, not wishing to delve too deeply here. Unfortunately her next conversational gambit was her eczema. Dear Lord. She held forth on treatments, lotions and potions, but most excruciating of all was her slightly wild-eyed declaration: “I’m a scratcher!”. Furthermore, she went on to inform me that throughout the course of what might well have been countless doctors’ consultations, she had accumulated a collection of medical latex gloves and swab sticks (used?). You couldn’t make this up.

Desperate by this point to turn the conversation round to something less toe-curling, such as, say, reporting verb patterns, we discussed her family (seemingly all highly functional in a massively dysfunctional way), her plans for study, work, family……..the dog again featured heavily. I became increasingly disconcerted. Even more so, because by rights I should have been having a coffee in the staffroom instead. It was only 9 o’clock. Sigh.

Even the longest lesson in the world can’t go on forever, so, as these things inevitably do, the time finally came to say our goodbyes. I attempted to make my enquiry as to whether she’d be coming to the next lesson with less of a “Please God say no” undertone and more of a “I think we’ve taken this as far as I want to go” overtone.

That was the last I saw of her. I hope her skin’s better. I hope the dog features less prominently in her life. Above all, I really hope that she continued to improve her English – a language school is no place to seek solace or counsel, particularly with a sleep and caffeine deprived English teacher.

And perhaps her psychologist finally helped her crack Gerunds and Infinitives.

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