My student has cancer: The all-encompassing nature of teaching EFL one to one

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My student has cancer.

In October, 2020, he told me that he couldn’t shake off a cough. 

He initially feared that he had COVID, which was perfectly understandable. However, the symptoms began to worsen as night sweats and sudden weight loss set in.

At the turn of the new year, he was diagnosed with diffuse b-cell lymphoma. 


STUDENTS WHO OPEN UP TO THEIR TEACHERS

I’ve been teaching this student for a number of years. 

True to my beliefs about efficient language learning (having short but regular classes), we meet every few days.

Therefore, it’s perhaps natural that this type of learning cycle might foster a closer bond between student and teacher. The student who meets their teacher every few days might be more prone to opening up about their lives compared with the student who has one class every week. 

From a language learning and confidence perspective, it’s no bad thing if a student can open up and speak freely about what’s going on in their lives. Still, it’s not my goal to be some kind of agony aunt. It’s just the way things are sometimes. I believe in the value of having short but regular classes to learn a language. If that means I become more involved in a student’s life, then so be it.

My student has cancer. Of course, I’m involved. I’m not an emotionless machine.


THE REAL ROLE OF FREELANCE EFL TEACHERS WHO TEACH ONE TO ONE

The EFL teacher’s role is all-encompassing as opposed to limiting. 

We don’t just dish out grammar gap-fill exercises and correct pieces of writing. Oftentimes, we are coaches, mentors and ardent listeners.

Sometimes, I wonder why the job title “language learning psychologist” hasn’t yet caught on.

I’ve had students who’ve opened up about their flagging careers, annoying spouses and depression. The list goes on.

This question is for all EFL teachers out there: 

What’s your real role as an EFL teacher?


HOW INVOLVED SHOULD TEACHERS GET WHEN THEIR STUDENTS HAVE SERIOUS DISEASES?

When my student was diagnosed, all I could do was to assure him that everything would be ok. Moreover, I recommended him to turn to immune-boosting foods. Indeed, I sent him a few recipes which my wife’s aunt, who had been diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, dictated to my wife over the phone.

Now, my student has cancer, and I believe it’s my duty to ask how he’s doing and when he’ll get his next set of test results. 

Here's part of one of the messages he sent me:

Steve, I’ve just got home. I survived. Definitely hospital wards are no for me. I’m a bit exhausted. I have not eaten for two days. I was on a drip


NOTHING BUT ADMIRATION

No cancer diagnosis is good.

However, I believe this student’s diagnosis has given him a new way of looking at his life. 

What does he really want to achieve? How can he just embrace the little things in life, such as rainbows and a mug of hot chocolate? 

For the past four months between chemotherapy sessions, he seems to have made tremendous progress in developing his business. 

I don’t know how he has the strength and concentration to do it. 

I’ve got nothing but admiration for him. 


MY STUDENT HAS CANCER - THE IMPACT ON MY OWN MINDSET

This student’s diagnosis has confirmed to me that life is too short for getting bogged down with trivialities and time wasters.

I’ve got some concrete goals and it’s high time I set about reaching them.

Not necessarily before it’s too late. 

But because life has a way of sneaking up on you - just when you think everything’s ok.

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