Van Halen got another thing right besides the melody, and that’s the fact that some of our students will have the hots for us. It’s such a taboo subject, often reserved for water cooler chat, that one could only write about it anonymously or extremely tipsy. Fortunately for you, I’m both, and I’m listening to Van Halen. (But I always proofread before posting.) That chili pepper on RateMyProfessor feels great at first, but it wears off pretty quickly. (I used to know someone who gave himself chili peppers on RMP and then bragged about it to everyone, as if we didn’t know what he was up to.) Once the pepper halo fades, though, we teachers have to learn how to deal with different types of students who express their attraction in different ways. So without further ado, the categories I have so far:
The Enamored: Once, a student came to see me after a few weeks of class. He said he was upset about something and needed to talk. At first, I was terrified he was going to tell me I was the worst teacher in history and that my lessons were worthless. Instead, he looked at me with his wide eyes and said, “I’m really attracted to you and don’t know what to do about it.” The poor thing, he worried that he was making me uncomfortable during class and wanted to know if he should drop. I assured him he was acting just fine. I was comfortable around him, and it was his choice whether he switched to a different section. What happened? He stayed, got an A for truly good work, and wound up with his very own girlfriend.
The Clueless: Some students, usually older, just don’t understand that I’m their professor. The best strategies here involve patience, prudence, and politeness. They don’t really cross the line so much as walk it all semester. They over-participate. They show up to my office at the worst times and stay way too long. One student of mine, late 20s, former military (and I’m grateful for his service) wound up just shy of the line. He showered me in compliments, some of them just as little inappropriate (you have such a beautiful spirit, you look so healthy, you look way young for your age). Somehow he found out my birthday and brought me a cupcake and flowers. He gave me a card on Valentine’s Day. If that weren’t enough, he did tend to kind of interrupt me a lot during seminars while also finding ways to twist class discussions into my personal life. Of course, a good teacher knows how to deflect personal questions like a sorceress. But did he ever try to touch me? Did he ever threaten me? No, and his grades were good, even if I did tire of his 4-5 emails a week. When the semester ended, he tried to invite me to a little party of his and then, I think, finally got the message that I was his goddamned, saintly professor who tolerated what she found to be bizarre incursions on her personal space. But I never had to express irritation or “bitchiness” with him. He remained a major in our program and chatted with me from time to time, but it seemed like the message finally got through.
The Troublemakers: Once, an athlete walked up behind me before class and ran his hand along my side and said, “Niiiice. Do you work out on campus?” I stared at him a few seconds, then told him to find a seat since, ya know, class had just started a little early. Later I told my supervisor about his indiscretion, and we agreed to start a paperwork trail. Fortunately, he calmed down and muddled through with one of those mercy Cs. I know, one day, decades from now, I might be sitting in a bar somewhere sucking down Long Island iced teas, telling young men something like, “Back my my day, all the boys used to line up to feel my lateral muscles. I was a queen, I tell ya.” But for now, it’s just irritating. Another student once tried to touch my hair after class. I dodged and made a snarky comment about his greasy hands after I’d just showered. Again, paper trail. No need for an official report. I’ve learned that the way you carry yourself, how you guard your space, your body language and facial expressions, matter a lot. I’ve mastered a look that could kill any man’s erection in .5 seconds.
The Crazies: Worse than trouble makers, these fellas worry me and I’m happy to say I’ve never dealt with one directly, unless you count the strange non-trad student at my old school who hanged around the department offices all day and left little poems for the female grad students. I got one in purple ink confessing how much he wanted to lick my nipples. A friend of mine once had a student joke that he was going to tie her up and spank her for a bad grade. Another friend was solicited for sex by a graduating senior who always showed up late and stayed after to “catch what I missed.” In these situations, silence is powerful. Give them the hard-on-killer look and just wait for them to finally feel a little embarrassed and leave. It’s probably a good idea to have your hand on your phone, and if you sense a physical threat, casually insert distance without looking like you’re scared. Plus, I carry pepper spray for a reason. Once you’re safe, go see your supervisor. I just recently read a news story about a man who fired a gun at a woman who refused his advances. With campus carry hanging over our heads in many states, that’s a real fear that lingers in our minds, but which we can’t let overpower us or make us less assertive in the classroom.
So, that’s my advice so far. I’m happy to update this post based on your experiences, advice, stories, etc.