28 January 2007

Family Secrets

My landlord is a very nice man who doesn't speak a word of English. He's very patient with my Polish, and has even invited me to his home a couple of times. I've met his wife and two small children, as well as his daughter from his first marriage. He recently hired me to tutor this daughter, since she's in her last year of high school & has to pass an English exam in May.

During our first meeting, I did the standard small talk lesson, asking her questions just so I could hear her speak & find out her weak points. Additionally, I asked her to ask me questions, one of which was (eventually, after some prodding and rearranging of words), "How do you know my father?"

I was a little surprised that she didn't know, but explained to her that I'm renting an apartment from him. I'm not sure she understood me, but I think she got the gist of it.

After the lesson, as my landlord was driving me home, he asked me not to tell his daughter that he's my landlord. Unfortunately, I had to tell him that I already had, since she had asked me how we knew one another. I didn't feel up to the challenge of prying any further into the issue in Polish, and we both let it drop.

So now I'm left wondering, is this going to cause problems for him with his ex-wife? Is this the reason the apartment is in his current wife's name, rather than his? And why do I feel vaguely guilty for revealing information I never knew was supposed to be hidden?

That's the problem with secrets, you always have to make sure everyone who knows them also knows that they're supposed to be secrets. But then I also have to wonder, if he had asked me not to reveal our relationship before his daughter asked me the question, what would I have told her? I'm glad I didn't have to deal with feeling like I had to lie to her, but I really don't know what I would have said.

13 January 2007


There are occasions in life when you fail to think far enough ahead, and suddenly discover you've said something you maybe shouldn't have. This is doubly true in teaching. Let me just set the scene:

Place: a general English lesson (aka speaking class)
Discussion topic: male/female communication

We had just read a text by Deborah Tannen in which she uses an example of a man who invited his friend to stay over without checking with his wife first. This upset his wife. Her husband felt that to tell his friend, "I have to ask my wife for permission," would have been emasculating.

This led to a discussion of how the men in the class view their male friends who are always checking with their girlfriends before agreeing to spend time with the guys. My question was along the lines of, "So when a friend says he has to check with his girlfriend, does it make you think he's whipped?"

As soon as the word was out of my mouth, a student asked what it meant, and I replied, "Oh, it means he has to ask permission for everything, it's short for-"

In my head, I suddenly realized what I had done. "Well, I really shouldn't tell you, it's not appropriate for the classroom."

Again, it was the wrong thing to say. And yes, I ended up telling them the whole phrase, while insisting that they not use it in any formal setting. As they (rightly) argued, how else are they going to learn authentic language? I just have to hope they either forget the phrase (right!) or at least never use it in a situation where it's going to come back to me.

Ah, the many surprises inherent in the life of a teacher!

02 January 2007


As I celebrated the New Year with a friend in Walcz, I realized how truly arbitrary it is. It's really just another day, that we all have agreed to view as the last day of the year. It could just as easily occur in March, or June, or whichever random month you prefer.

So I chose to spend it the way I would like to spend a lot of my days - watching multiple DVDs and eating junk food. We wandered out to the town square at midnight, and it was filled with drunk people shooting off fireworks. Not really the safest of spectacles, so we went back home and watched another movie.

And now I have to remember to write 07 instead of 06 when I write the date. Other than that, my life hasn't really changed. I'm just not all that excited about it being a new year.