Tales from new teachers
I was walking to the bus stop after school recently when I was ambushed by one of my tutees. I was not prepared for the conversation that followed.
"Do you like Mr X?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, simply.
"Don't you think he's a bit mean to us?"
"No," I said. "I think he's fair."
"Miss, do you like anyone at school, you know, in that way?"
The conversation had crossed a line. My response was that I liked my husband. Thankfully, that momentarily stumped the student. But then he regained momentum and asked me how oId I was.
Over the course of the year, I had been developing my ability to deal with surprising questions in my subject area but this was unexpected. No one had asked me anything quite so personal before - certainly not so brazenly. I barely managed to rearrange my face into the mask of poise I'd been perfecting in the classroom as I told the pupil it was not polite to ask.
So what was I going to do when I was - inevitably - confronted with a personal question again, especially if I was outside the structured environment of the school?
I worried that now the student had started asking questions, he might not stop. Perhaps it was a mistake to have engaged, albeit reluctantly, in any kind of conversation at all.
It was bound to happen again, and I needed to know what to do. I asked my fellow trainees first. The ones who had been teaching assistants had ample experience of dealing with personal questions. But their answers ranged from "Tell them to mind their own business" to "Be honest with them, as long as it's not totally inappropriate".
My training sessions didn't offer the help I needed either. Some of the experienced teachers said they didn't mind personal questions but others took a very hard line. I was just as perplexed as ever. Was it all just down to personality? Surely there had to be a definitive answer.
Finally, I asked my mentor. He thought there was space for a little humour. When I pointed out that I wasn't an especially witty person, he suggested I should be myself, but added that if I was worried it was best to err on the side of caution and not give anything away.
It was a relief to be told what to do. When in doubt about questions of a personal nature (which is still most of the time), I just send the students on their way.
No teacher is obliged to answer personal questions and in fact it's usually better not to. So the next time the student in question asked my age, I just smiled sweetly and told him it was none of his business.
The writer is a teacher training in London
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