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What to Do When Your ESL Student Has a Crush on You

by Katharine Mitchell May 28, 2009
No, this isn’t an article about how to pick up your students.

Most of us can admit to having had a crush, at least once in our lives, on a teacher or coach.

Maybe it was Miss Evans, the 22-year-old first grade teacher with bubble gum breath, shiny red toenails and an endless stash of Hershey’s kisses. Or Mr. Singleton, the cute writing professor who canceled Wednesday classes for happy hour and laughed at all your jokes.

ESL teachers are often the target of student crushes.

Teacher crushes are perfectly natural, and usually harmless, but they can be tricky to deal with when you’re the object of affection—especially for English teachers abroad.

ESL teachers are often the target of student crushes. Here’s why:

• Language teachers, in general, tend to inspire a more friendly or intimate learning environment than those covering other academic subjects.

This sense of intimacy can increase exponentially between students and teachers from different countries, and especially in the tutorial setting of one-on-one instruction.

• For students who’ve had little or no contact with teachers from other countries or cultures, English class offers a unique opportunity. A natural dose of curiosity has the tendency to deepen into a crush.

Western teachers, in general, also tend to have a more open and relaxed attitude towards their students than native teachers.

• Physical communication plays a large role in language classes. Both parties rely on communicating physically – through body language, exaggerated gestures and silly mimes, which often result in giggles and relaxed social barriers.

If you begin to notice the telltale signs of amorous intrigue consider trying one of the following tactics.

The following tips offer basic and practical tactics for defusing teacher/student crushes or avoiding them altogether.

1. Try a different position

What are your student’s cultural expectations for how close, or far apart, you sit during lessons?

Sitting side by side might strike you as the most practical arrangement for one-on-one instruction but it’s sometimes best to sit across from each other at the table, where it’s less likely you’ll brush hands or knock knees while reaching for the dictionary.

2. Don’t sink with the Titanic

Discussing movies, TV shows and celebrities are a great way to get your student talking, but romantic themes are best avoided.

This includes thinking carefully before analyzing Rose’s relationship in Titanic or naming your favorite character from Sex and the City.

As much as your student might make you feel like you’re a celebrity yourself, it’s definitely time to sink the Titanic when your student starts insisting you’re more handsome than Leonardo DiCaprio.

3. Avoid the Language of Love

English corners, or “free talk,” can be a great way to ensure student participation, but they can also, if not properly guided, lead to embarrassing comments or awkward confessions.

If the conversation runs astray, bust out a grammar lesson. Grammar is seldom sexy, unless you’re conjugating suggestive verbs, which have no place in the classroom anyway.

4. Location, Location, Location

Where are you meeting for lessons?

The cozy coffee shop you’ve chosen for its good music and comfy couches might seem like a perfect venue for an English lesson, but a student who associates cafes with Hollywood love scenes might view the setting differently.

Likewise, you might not associate McDonald’s with romance, but your small-town Chinese student might mistake your appointment as a McDate.

5. Watch Your Mouth

Admit it: it’s good fun to say swear words, slang and potty talk in another language.

Students of all ages delight in learning the colloquialisms of “insiders.”

There’s a certain high and sense of empowerment in cursing out a Beijing taxi driver in Mandarin, even if you can’t direct him back to your hostel.

Yet it’s best to filter what types of phrases you choose to share with your students. Teaching a bunch of 5-year-old’s to say “fart” might seem innocuous, yet you’re removing an important layer of student to teacher respect when you enter the realm of the silly or profane.

If all else fails, suggest another teacher for your student.

The same goes for teaching older students words like flirt, date or even French kiss. You never know when your student will decide it’s time to practice.

Of course other common approaches include canceling a few one-on-one lessons, bringing along a friend or making it clear to your student that you’re married, in a relationship or committed to someone back home.

If all else fails, suggest another teacher for your student.

Sometimes that extra cash just isn’t worth it.


If you’re thinking about teaching English abroad, then you’ve come to the right place. Check out these useful articles:

How To Get A Job Teaching In Japan

Is The JET Program Right For You?

Teaching English In China

10 Online Resources For Finding A Job In Asia

Discover Matador

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