Drawing the line

I’m up at this cold, dark, crazy hour writing because I’ve decided not to exercise this morning on account of a sore left foot. It better not be Gout: The Return (it probably isn’t, it’s just that the soreness is around my toe joints where toes meet foot, and this reminded me of the gout I had oh, what, 5 or 6 years ago now? I’ve written about it before in previous incarnations of my site so I won’t do it again, unless enough of you would like to hear about it, so let me know ;-)).

Although the week featured me standing in a puddle of cat pee, I feel like I’ve had a really good week, for a few reasons.

First, I finished the chapter, which is by no means a masterpiece, but it is a chapter (as opposed to what I had before it became a chapter – nine drafts of varying length, content and quality, some of which I could best describe as “my chapter in chunks”). Now at least my supervisor can give me some feedback and make suggestions from which I can certainly then make improvements towards my goal of masterpiecedom*.

Second, I’ve felt really great about the teaching this week. With the major assignment due today, I’ve had students emailing me this week with questions and asking for help or advice regarding the assignment. We’ve had a really good dialogue, I think, over these emails. And this week’s tutorials were fantastic! I won’t say what the topic for discussion was, but it was controversial (as in, it had the potential to really upset people)- the sort of topic where people tend to have very strong personal feelings, and in a room of 15 or 16 people, you would find people with directly opposite views. I did say to both classes that I’d like them to just be mindful of the fact that there would be very different opinions and ideas in the class, and that everyone had the right to express their opinion without attacking anyone else’s. There were a few moments where people caught themselves getting a little over-excited and almost stomping over someone else’s ideas, but then they’d say “I didn’t mean to interrupt, please finish what you were saying” to their ‘adversary’ and it was fine. There was a lot of honesty and openness in the discussion, as well many frowns and furrowed eyebrows, but there was also plenty of smiling and laughter too. It probably sounds really geeky, but the energy in the classes was really exciting. What a shame it’s the final week of classes next week!

(Here’s the part of the post that relates to the title)
Usually after the Wednesday class a bunch of students (about half a dozen or so) like to go to the pub together. They’ve been asking me for weeks now to have a drink with them, and I have been politely declining the offer. This week they asked again. Now, I had no intention of actually going to the pub with them, but I was having a conversation with one of the guys in the group, and so as they all walked towards the pub, I walked with them talking to this guy (we were discussing stuff to do with the course and assignment). Anyway, maybe 100 metres** away from the pub I stopped walking and the guy and I kept having our discussion. The others kept going and went into the pub. Anyway, in the end I decided it was time to turn around and walk back towards my office. “Aren’t you going to the pub?” he asked. I said, “I’d really love to, but I can’t.”

I explained to him, it wasn’t personal. I did like the idea of hanging out with them, but the problem was that it might be construed by some people that I was friends with some students but not others, that I liked these particular students best and so I was biased in my marking of assignments etc etc. You know, the fratenising thing (that word sounds soooo seedy), getting too familiar. To me it was definitely a professionalism/ethics thing (of course, I did not have any sinister intentions, and I think neither did they). “I understand,” he said. “But they will be disappointed!” We both started walking away from the pub. “Aren’t you going to the pub?” I asked. “I was,” he said, “But I do have lots of work to do tonight. I may as well head home and get started on it”.

As we walked away, my phone rang***. It was one of the boys from the group at the pub.
“Hey where are ya? You’re not piking out on us, are you?”
“I’m sorry, I am,” I said. “But please don’t take it personally. I’d love to have a drink with you guys, but I can’t really be seen hanging out and socialising with students… someone could accuse me of favouritism towards you guys, and claim that I gave them a bad grade because I didn’t like them as much as ‘the students I hang out with’… you know that sort of thing.”
He was silent, thinking, for a moment (while in the background one of the girls said “Aw, isn’t she coming then?”)
“Well, I understand,” he said. “But maybe after next week’s class? It is the last one after all. Would you come and have a drink with us then?”
“Well, technically I wouldn’t have finished marking your essays or your exams yet, so probably not. Maybe when it’s all completely finished,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. “We hope you will anyway.”
“Thank you for asking me though.”
“That’s cool. See you next week I guess.”
“Yep, I’ll see you next week in class,” I said. “Could you explain to the others what I’ve just said? It really isn’t personal. It’s a professionalism thing.”
“Yep, no prob. See ya!”

The guy I was walking with, now about to step in the opposite direction towards where his vehicle was parked, said “I’m sure if they realised the position they were putting you in, they wouldn’t have asked. They wouldn’t want to put you in a difficult position.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s really lovely to be ‘wanted’! And I do really like all of you. But yeah, that’s just one of those things when you’re a tutor.”
“I’m sure they understand. I do,” he said. “See you next week!”
“See ya!”
It was, as I said, really lovely to be wanted. I can see how egos can go nuts and override the brain in such situations. I just had to be content to think about it and smile to myself on the bus ride home. I was never this cool when I was a student myself! (I am not this cool in my non-tutor life now!) It felt like I’ve turned into my cool drama teacher from high school! (Ok ok stop flattering yourself, tfp!). I could really see how power could be so easily abused in these situations.

I have met students whom would definitely be mates with if I wasn’t their tutor. If I met them at a party or something we’d definitely have a good time hanging out and chatting. Even when the unit is over I probably won’t be pubbing it with these students, as I could possible end up teaching them in another unit down the track. Although it’s all innocent and in good fun, it would just make things too tricky and messy. It’s a shame. But I will certainly stop to chat if we see each other around campus. I still do that with students from last year, which is really lovely (oh dear, how many instances of “lovely” is that?! I do mean it though).

Ugh, I’ve been writing for like 40 minutes! It is well past the time I usually jump into the shower, so I must fly. Hopefully when I read over this post later it will make sense.

*Yes, another made-up word. Actually, I’m less interested in masterpiecedom as I am in achieving definite nonsuckiness. Yes, another made-up word.
**This figure may be way off as I am hopeless at estimating distances. There was at least a carpark separating the pub and where I stood, anyway.
***Because I don’t have a permanent office as a tutor, I give students my mobile number and email address. I don’t give the number to the office I do my PhD work in, as it’s a shared research students’ office.

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