I'm a secondary English teacher. This week, though, I'm a visiting lecturer at a summer school for Polish MA students here to learn creative writing. They seem responsive, polite and helpful, don't make a fuss about farts and don't flick paper pellets at the ceiling. But during group work, they speak in rapid Polish and could be saying disgusting things about me.
At least the kids at school insult me in English. I feel insecure.
"Do you feel insecure when we talk in Polish?" one of the students asks me at coffee time. (Ah yes, another difference. Someone brings coffee at regular intervals.) I laugh nonchalantly. "Of course notI should I?" She smiles and walks away.
It's hot and we're wilting. As I set them a half-hour writing task, someone who has obviously been nominated to speak for the group asks if they can work outside. I panic. If I say yes, perhaps I'm being taken in and they'll go off for a smoke. If I say no, they might not like me. There are two more days to go and I can't have them popping in and out. I say no.
They say nothing, in Polish or English, but they don't look happy.
I set an autobiographical writing exercise beginning "The first time... " One girl sits for the full 30 minutes doing nothing and looking uncomfortable. She's either been upset by our class discussion on memories or she's fuming at yesterday's events and wondering how to start a piece entitled "The first time a lecturer refused to let us work outside".
It's the last session of the day and I ask them to write a few sentences evaluating the course. "In English, please," I quip, trying to suppress the tremor in my voice. Apparently, they've enjoyed themselves.
Perhaps they were discussing the work all that time. Better still, no one mentions anything about being locked in hot rooms or feeling traumatised by the writing tasks. My self-esteem is back in place, until I get back to school anyway.
Pauline Rose in an English teacher in Richmond, Surrey. She writes under a pseudonym