Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Your Turn: “Should I Ask Out My Student?”

In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:

I’m a teacher, and I teach both English to non-English speakers and Russian to foreigners who come to visit our town in Russia. I have this student, a guy from Ireland who studies Russian, and I’ve been teaching him for almost six months now. He came to our town on a whim and he wants to get a permanent visa to stay here, though he only has a tourist visa now. Anyway, we’ve developed a friendly relationship and I’ve grown to like him a lot, which I think is mutual. We chat on the Internet and text each other almost every day, and we eat out together at least once a week.

Maybe I’m imagining things, but I feel he’s gotten attached to me as well. He has invited me to his work, showed me what he does, and introduced me to his colleague. As a matter of a fact, I can see that he really enjoys my company, and he jokes and teases me all the time in a friendly manner. He has started giving me hints in his jokes lately that he’d like to be hugged or that he’d like to see me in provocative clothes or that I look good, etc. He encourages me to compliment him all the time. But he never makes a move on me, never tries to hug me or touch me, and avoids physical contact with me, though, while I’m around, he looks me in the eye and smiles at me. I’m confused with his behaviour, and I’m afraid that there might be a misunderstanding due to the difference of mentalities. I’m a Slavic girl after all. I’m a private tutor for him at the moment and I come to teach him in his apartment, so nobody sees us and he still doesn’t do anything. We talk and we watch movies, but, truth be told, it feels a little awkward being around him. I suppose he might feel insecure and doesn’t want to get involved with me because he’s not sure if he will get his visa or not. Also, previously, when I taught him at the language school, he would be opposed to the idea of dating a teacher.

His sister came to visit him a couple of days ago and he took her to the seaside, but he was texting me every day and he wrote me that he accidentally met an acquaintance of his (whom he called a stalker) at the seaside and that I have to improve if I want to keep up with her. That’s the way he likes to joke.

So I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid that, if I make a move on him, I might look stupid and he might not see me as a girlfriend but rather as a friend/teacher. He’s single and I could give it a try, but I’m afraid. I also have a male friend who told me that he wants a relationship with me, but I never gave him the answer though he’s kind of nice and we really have a lot in common.

So I’m just asking for a piece of advice. Could you tell me what I should do in this situation? — Teacher Teacher

47 comments… add one
  • avatar

    ele4phant June 6, 2012, 1:05 pm

    No, don’t date your student. If there’s something there, it’ll be there when the class is over. I don’t know what the standards are for your job, and perhaps things are a bit more permissive (it sounds like you’re one of those post-college grads who goes and teaches English for a year or two straight out of school) but better to air on the side of caution, rather than get fired and shipped home. Or deal with a sullied reputation when other teacher’s look down on you for committing a faux pas.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest June 6, 2012, 1:14 pm

      I’m a little confused. Are you a teacher of his still, or just his tutor? Does that make a difference? I sort of think so.
      I’m thinking of a painting class I took recently for fun (not at a college, an adult learning center or something, no college credits or anything). I wouldn’t have thought it was inappropriate to date the “teacher” in that situation which seems similar here.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant June 6, 2012, 1:22 pm

        I guess I’m not sure if she’s still teaching him. To me it sounded like he was still in her class.

        If he’s no longer enrolled, yeah, go for it.

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      • avatar

        AllegroFox June 6, 2012, 1:37 pm

        I agree, LBH – I wrote a long explanatory comment that seems to have been eaten, but you were much more concise 🙂

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    • Leroy

      Leroy June 6, 2012, 1:17 pm

      He’s not her student at the language school any longer. She’s his tutor, which is excellent!

      Where were all these frisky European teachers when I was in school? And Russian no less.

      LW – yes it seems like he likes you. I think that you’re going to have to make the first move.

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    • avatar

      AllegroFox June 6, 2012, 1:19 pm

      It sounds like they’re already out of the classroom – she’s teaching him privately at his home. That makes things a little blurrier to me – LW, are you working for a tutoring service which sends you into student’s homes? That’s what I do, in which case, the same standard applies as to teaching in a classroom. You’re representing a company as well as yourself. If you’re representing yourself as a private tutor (i.e. running your own business) I would say the same standard still applies – you need to protect your reputation around your other students. You could still stay friends with this guy, and maybe see where things go when he’s NO LONGER your student, but wait till then to find out.
      The only way I would say it would be okay to make a move now – while he’s still your student – would be if it was a very casual arrangement; i.e. you were friends first and are tutoring him as a favour. Is that the case? How did you get from teaching him in the classroom to teaching at his home?

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  • avatar

    Amanda June 6, 2012, 1:33 pm

    In Russian, is there a phrase similar to “No guts, no glory”? Because LW, I think you should go for it. Ask your Irishman if he would like to “insert fun date activity here” with you. As for your other male friend, why not go on a date with him too? See how it goes. You certainly don’t have to exclusively date either of them until you discuss it. Have fun!

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  • avatar

    pho_sho June 6, 2012, 1:41 pm

    Never go for the safe choice just because it’s safe. You obviously like this guy, so I think it’s worth a shot. He seems to show a lot of signs of being interested, but you never know until you guys talk about it.

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  • avatar

    MarkD June 6, 2012, 1:44 pm

    Similar situation, decades ago. My (now) wife was a student in an English conversation class that I taught in Japan as a volunteer while stationed there. No grades, and it was more of a chance for them to practice English with a native speaker and me to see the real Japan. We were circumspect, and fooled nobody. Actually, the guys (Japanese) who ran the class vouched for me when things started to get serious…

    You can’t win if you don’t play.

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  • avatar

    *HmC* June 6, 2012, 1:55 pm

    “I also have a male friend who told me that he wants a relationship with me, but I never gave him the answer though he’s kind of nice and we really have a lot in common.”

    It’s so weird to me that you threw this in at the end, as if you have to be with SOMEBODY so this guy is your only option if you don’t go with plan A. I’m sure I can speak for this fellow teacher and say that nobody wants to be your plan B. You talked about your student for the entire letter- that’s who you’re interested in. If you go out with anybody, go out with him, but leave this guy you’re not interested in out of it altogether.

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    • avatar

      Jiggs June 6, 2012, 2:00 pm

      Yeah, I think her lack of response shows how she feels about the male friend.

      LW, make a move on your Irishman, and if he doesn’t go for it, don’t bother with the male friend. You are allowed to choose nobody if your plan A doesn’t work out (despite what romantic comedies will have you believe).

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  • Fabelle

    Fabelle June 6, 2012, 2:40 pm

    I think he’s giving you pretty clear signals. Are you flirting back at all, or do you clam up? I’d advise you– at this initial stage– to just respond positively to his flirtatious comments & see where things lead.

    I’ve had guys pull the “my stalker friend” thing before, or something similiar. It’s usually a last-ditch effort to make a light-bulb go off in your head, so get on that ish before he gives up.

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  • Lyra

    L June 6, 2012, 2:42 pm

    I’m of the opinion that no matter what type of teaching you are doing (classroom, tutoring, etc.), it is inappropriate to start a romantic relationship with a student. If you’re getting paid to teach, you shouldn’t even be considering starting a relationship with this guy no matter what the age difference. Even if you’re tutoring him privately at his home, starting a relationship with him would simply be unprofessional. You want to protect yourself too — there may be rules against dating your students.

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  • avatar

    Lindsay June 6, 2012, 3:03 pm

    You should make a move. He’s clearly dropping hints and probably he doesn’t know how you feel, which is why he’s not making a move. Of course, you’ll have to find out on your own, but I assume that if he were opposed to dating you before getting his visa, he wouldn’t keep flirting and involving you so much in his life.

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  • avatar

    Bossy Italian Wife June 6, 2012, 3:05 pm

    If you want to ask him out you should say, “I have to stop seeing you as a student, I’m afraid.” When he asks why, tell him it’s because you don’t date students and you would really like to date him.

    Either way–whether he tells you yay or nay–you have to be willing to stop seeing him as a student in order to make a move. If you aren’t willing to give him up as a student, then don’t ask him out and pursue the relationship with the other guy.

    Good luck!

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    • Jess

      jess of cgw June 7, 2012, 9:30 am

      Exactly what I wanted to say. This is the right thing to do, no matter what the outcome because her feelings are already compromising the teaching relationship (flirting, movies, etc) regardless of whether or not they are reciprocated. And by doing so, there is the chance that she’ll finally learn what he feels and –if the feelings are mutual, a real relationship can begin.

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  • avatar

    amy June 6, 2012, 3:24 pm

    *facepalm*

    NO. You are a TEACHER. He is your STUDENT.

    End of story.

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    • CatsMeow

      CatsMeow June 6, 2012, 3:46 pm

      Yeah, but if I’m understanding it correctly, there’s no real power differential. I’m seeing it almost as a student dating their yoga teacher or something.

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      • Leroy

        Leroy June 6, 2012, 6:34 pm

        Bingo. People are making WAAAAYYYY too much of the significance of her tutoring.

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      • avatar

        Marta June 6, 2012, 8:13 pm

        I can tell you that Russians are not so concerned about these things. If he was a little boy, then yes, but they are adults. It’s not a big deal. She is probably laughing at these comments.

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    • avatar

      *HmC* June 6, 2012, 3:50 pm

      I know where you’re coming from, but I think that’s an over generalization. In many cases, a teacher shouldn’t date a student. But context matters, which would include; the ages of the parties involved, how much of an authority role the teacher has over the student, whether the attraction is of the relationship variety or more just a fling, and how much the teacher values their job and may think it a worthy risk for a true, long-term connection. In this case, they seem to be of similar ages, and she’s just his tutor. And it’s private tutoring that he’s taking to improve his language skills, not some big involved degree program. I don’t think it would be that much of a sacrifice for him to get another tutor and her to get another student if this is a relationship they both want to pursue.

      It’s sort of like work relationships. In general, yes, I would probably advise most people to not date their co-workers, and especially not get involved with their boss. But a couple years ago, I feel in love with my boss- at a temporary (2 month) internship, and we are close in age, and we didn’t see each other outside of work until after the internship ended. And it worked out perfectly fine. Life is messy, meeting someone you have a true connection with isn’t always easy, and it’s not something to always just toss out the window due to black and white rules. Meeting someone at school or work gives you a great, organic, low pressure opportunity to get to know them, and it isn’t ALWAYS a bad idea. Risky? Well maybe, but what romantic situation doesn’t carry some risk?

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest June 6, 2012, 3:51 pm

      She’s actually just a tutor.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant June 6, 2012, 4:02 pm

        I can still see if she’s getting paid, or represents a tutoring agency, its not appropriate for them to date. Its perhaps not as big of a deal for them to start dating, but you know, get him a different tutor first. I just think its about respecting professional boundaries, and while it may not be a glaring no-no, she could gain a reputation of being inappropriate or unprofessional.

        Now if she taught him in class and he asked for a little extra help after it ended and she’s volunteering her time, well I don’t see a conflict there at all.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest June 6, 2012, 4:13 pm

        Eh, I still don’t really see much wrong with it.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant June 6, 2012, 4:19 pm

        Yeah, I wouldn’t call it “wrong”, but if teaching is an profession she wants to stay in, I think it wouldn’t hurt to be extra cautious and try to not to do anything that could potentially give her a bad or unprofessional reputation. I wouldn’t expect serious consequences, but you know, it never hurts to be conservative when it comes to how people percieve you professionally.

        If that means finding him a new tutor, that’s not really a big deal.

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    • avatar

      Zepp June 7, 2012, 5:57 am

      no no, this is different. as someone who lives in a foreign country and had to take language classes, I can tell you the relationship is MUCH more casual. There are no diplomas, no grades, and the class segments usually last a month. It’s not like she’s his professor. It’s more like if you were taking an art class for fun and dated your teacher.

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  • avatar

    kerrycontrary June 6, 2012, 3:44 pm

    I think RR said a long time ago “If you have to ask yourself should I choose this guy or the other guy, the answer is NO GUYS”

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    • avatar

      *HmC* June 6, 2012, 3:52 pm

      I think I said that on here once! She probably said it too… lots of people probably have, it’s good advice! 🙂

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      • avatar

        kerrycontrary June 6, 2012, 4:45 pm

        Or…you just behave like me and date both of them (non-exclusively) until something blows up. Which is also entertaining.

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    • avatar

      painted_lady June 6, 2012, 5:23 pm

      Actually that was me. If you’re torn between two boys, the answer is always no boys. You should date no boys at all.

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      • avatar

        painted_lady June 6, 2012, 5:24 pm

        Oops, apparently it’s a thing around here!

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  • Tracey

    Tracey June 6, 2012, 3:55 pm

    I’d say as long as you are working for him in any capacity, you should not date him. But it also sounds like you’re thiiiiis close to going for it anyway. If you’re going to there, find him another tutor/teacher and end the professional part of your relationship before embarking on the personal.

    Oh, and one other thing…is he flirting and being all cozy with you because he’s into you, or is it because he’s green card hunting? From the way you describe it, that’s probably not the case, but really weigh out what you want and what you hope to gain from a relationship with him before acting.

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  • avatar

    Julesoola June 6, 2012, 4:15 pm

    The following comments and questions I pose might not really have anything to do with anything and may be coming from a skeptical place, but here goes anyway…

    First, is a Russian tourist visa different than any other tourist visas?? How is he allowed to work? Also, how do you accidentally bump into some girl you “kinda” know in freaking Russia?? I’ve dated guys who used the term “stalker” when they really should have said “girlfriend”. “Oh all those texts I’m getting?? That’s just my stalker…totally not my girlfriend…yup, stalker…” Eh, my ears go up whenever a guy starts throwing the word stalker or crazy around about women he knows. It usually means he did something bad and is deflecting blame to them.

    Other than that, he doesn’t seem shy (and from my experience Irish men who run off to Russia for months at a time on a whim aren’t terribly timid), so why isn’t he just going for it? Seems like there’s a reason, be it a girlfriend/stalker, his not really planning to stick around Russia despite what he says, maybe he just wants the attention from you for now, I don’t know..ignore me, this is probably just me being cynical.

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    • Amybelle

      Amybelle June 6, 2012, 4:20 pm

      I agree with you, but I’m pretty cynical myself.

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    • avatar

      Emerald June 6, 2012, 4:24 pm

      You might have a point. He doesn’t seem timid to me either, moreover seems like he’s having a thing for the LW, so why wouldn’t he make the first step? Only if there’s something preventing him from it, right?
      Everything she wrote clearly shows that he’s into her… I doubt that this teacher/student thing is a problem for him, because teasing her and giving her hints clearly proves that.
      I understand there can be coincidences in life but why telling her about bumping into someone? Only to make the LW jealous? Isn’t that silly?

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    • avatar

      Kate June 6, 2012, 5:10 pm

      THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS! Also, “You’d better step it up because this other chick is looking good”? What is that? I don’t care if this “how he jokes,” that is a really lame thing to say, because even if it’s a joke it’s still intended as a message. I just don’t trust a guy who behaves this way. Even if he does have a casual interest in the LW, something just doesn’t add up. Although perhaps I’m showing my prejudice against guys who won’t man up and ask a lady out. If a guy doesn’t make a move I think it’s generally true that he’s not that into it. It sounds more like this guy is looking for an ego boost since I agree that he doesn’t sound shy at all.

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      • avatar

        Tracey June 6, 2012, 8:52 pm

        Has this thought crossed anyone else’s mind: What would BitterGayMark say?

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      • parton_doll

        parton_doll June 7, 2012, 9:26 am

        Always Tracey 🙂

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  • avatar

    ArtsyGirly June 6, 2012, 5:54 pm

    Ok my opinion depends on a couple missing details. If he is a current student that is enrolled in a formal class then it is a big no no – wait until he is no longer a student. If you are a private tutor, I would suggest that you no longer accept money for teaching lessons if you are going to start a physical relationship since that could really blur the lines/confuse the nature of the relationship. Finally, I would also possibly talk to the administration if he is still in the program since there might be a employee clause which does not allow teacher/student relationships. Good luck – also Irish accents are the best!

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  • avatar

    MiMi June 6, 2012, 9:23 pm

    Ha ha, I must be the old one here today because I do think he’s giving you clear signals – clear signals that he isn’t good enough to be your next boyfriend. Regular decent guys who are not playing head games go after what they want, they don’t give mixed messages, they don’t put you in competition with real or imaginary other women, they don’t mess with you and keep you guessing about their possible motivations and mysterious meanings. Let Larry the Leprechaun cast his Lucky Charms elsewhere.
    Even if you don’t prefer that other guy, did you notice that HE is acting like a guy who is interested? He doesn’t text you about other girls you have to measure up to, right? No, he was direct and told you he wanted a relationship. He may not be your cup of tea, but his behavior is a lot closer to what you should expect.

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    • avatar

      ele4phant June 6, 2012, 10:47 pm

      Good point. By a certain age, most people have the maturity to go for what they want without playing games (and if they don’t, you don’t want to be dating them anyways).

      From what it sounds like, this is a fairly casual tutoring situation in a culture that would be permissive of their dating, so there are real no obstacles to contend with. And he doesn’t sound all that shy. So this begs the question, why hasn’t he gone for it? I don’t know, but its a good question to mull over.

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    • avatar

      kerrycontrary June 7, 2012, 9:05 am

      “Larry the leprechaun” hahaha. That’s up there with “bitter barn”

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B June 6, 2012, 9:59 pm

    Don’t do it, unless you find him another tutor. Better safe than sorry. What bothers me more about this letter is this: “he wrote me that he accidentally met an acquaintance of his (whom he called a stalker) at the seaside and that I have to improve if I want to keep up with her. That’s the way he likes to joke.” Maybe it’s my own bad experiences, but this is a red flag to me. His use of the word “stalker” strikes me as a bit overdramatic and he seems to imply that he thinks she’s not good enough. He is using his “joke” to put her down. Sometimes, people call their bad behaviour “jokes” so they’ll have an excuse to call you out if you object to it. I don’t find that kind of humor funny and this would make me run the other way.

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  • avatar

    AllegroFox June 7, 2012, 12:37 am

    Hey Wendy – I didn’t know where to put this so you would see it, but we appear to have a spambot in the forums. tmac116 be trolling 😛

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  • avatar

    GTR June 7, 2012, 12:40 am

    He sounds like a fun, happy-go-lucky person (I mean, who travels to Russia “on a whim” to study the language?), very different from the Russian men around you. I’d be concerned that his friendliness and ebullience just look like interest compared to the personalities of everyone else you know.

    But you’ll never know if you don’t ask. There’s merit to simply saying, “Hey, are you interested in me as something more than a friend? I’m getting the impression that you are, but signs can be a bit hard to read in people from different cultures. For the record I’d be happy if you were.”

    I doubt that would ruin the friendship if he wasn’t interested.

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  • avatar

    Zepp June 7, 2012, 6:01 am

    I think he likes you. i would go to a bar, both get drunk, and see what happens. Put your hand on his knee, get close, etc. etc. I mean, if he rejects your attempt to kiss him, then you know. Maybe he has a girlfriend back in Ireland. Thats the only thing I can think of. He likes you and is really attracted to you, but he doesn’t want to cheat. (or tell you in case he’s able to stay in russia and thus would want to date you?) I dont know, that’s all specuation. Just make a move!

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie June 7, 2012, 10:39 am

    A simple friendly hug as you say good night for the evening would tell you (by his reaction) whether or not he’s interested. Go from there to where it leads you. He may be very shy and obviously your not very forward.

    One of my favorite quotes is applicable here. “Only two things separate us from happiness, regret for the past and fear of the future.”

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