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#1374: “Help, a tutor keeps asking me for personal details.” from Valerie L's blog

Dear Captain

I have ended up in a very awkward situation with a tutor/professor and I wondered if you had any advice on how to navigate this. (I am female she/her)

Basically I am learning Farsi in my spare time for fun. I did an online evening course in the language then when that ended I thought it would be cool to get a few private classes to keep improving before the evening classes started again. I found a teacher online that looked promising so I emailed him to ask how much he charged, whether he could do 3 or 4 classes initially to see how I liked learning with him, and so on.

The teacher answered me right away (a good sign) and sent me his number asking if we can text on WhatsApp to sort things out faster. In general I don’t like to give my number out to strangers right away but this seemed ok so I added him on WhatsApp. Immediately the guy video called me. I am not used to getting video calls– i loathe them actually– so without thinking it was video, I answered him. I was sitting on my bed at the time casually dressed in a tank top since I was at home that morning. So immediately this felt off. The guy told me he only did classes in batches of 6, cited a price that is out of my range and much higher than what I had seen elsewhere as the going rate, and instead of waiting for me to decide if that was OK for me, he told me we can start Monday BUT (a) i have to bank transfer the money to him by the end of tomorrow to ensure my place and (b) I have to provide him with my full name and my full home address. (He had already asked where I lived in the call and I told him my city, we are in the same city but it’s huge).

Anyway I told him I would think things over and let him know and he said he only takes serious students and i need to decide fast because I need to get the money sent over etc. I felt pressured.

After we hung up he WhatsApped me twice to ask me for my full home address “for his official records” and asked me to make sure to send these details over by the end of the working day. So given that his prices were also too high for me and I didn’t want to pay for lots of classes off the bat with a teacher when I don’t know if we would work together well, and given that I am not going to give a random dude my home address. I felt pressured and I just said sorry I am no longer interested in classes at this time and I blocked him on WhatsApp and thought that was that (I didn’t feel like giving him a lesson on how to conduct himself, i just wanted him to go away).I felt like he had escalated a casual enquiry that he could have answered in a email into an intrusive hard sell pushy saga with video calls and requests for my personal details of where I live.

Anyway so I re-signed up for the next semester of the online evening class and guess who is our new tutor? That’s right Video Call Guy…. i thought well, I will just be professional and act like nothing happened and give him a chance, and we can just all do the class with no fuss. There are 8 others in the online class anyway so should be no issue right? Well, in the class the FIRST thing he does is insist we all give out our personal phone numbers to him so he can set up a WhatsApp group for us to chat and make friends and help each other. We are all beginners in the language and he wants us all to meet up in person and chat online. I don’t know anyone in the group personally, they are all strangers. I generally don’t do WhatsApp groups except for family and some very close friends (the class does not require us to be in them and the college that organises it has its own online system where we can communicate without giving personal numbers out etc) and i don’t really want to have this awkward guy messaging me or have extra non class work chatting on WhatsApp. I am happy to attend classes, do all homework and prep on time, participate fully during the class, even communicate by email here and there with class members if need be but I don’t want him or them in my pocket like that. It’s NOT a requirement of the course (it’s a a 60 minute once a week evening class not a university or college course.) TBH I think if i hadn’t have had the home address history with this dude I might feel less reluctant to participate in such a group… but it is what it is

I have made it clear, without fuss that I “just don’t do” WhatsApp groups and no one else seems to care, but this guy is just… mentioning it a lot. Do I need to defend myself more explictly here with an explanation of why I “don’t do” WhatsApp? I know some people like them for learning but I am not one of them. If it were a requirement of the course I would suck it up, get a second number and use an old phone for it but I honestly don’t have time for the hassle. Plus this just seems… controlling somehow.

Thanks so much

I Just Want To Learn Not Give My Personal Details to Strangers and Chat Online

Hello!

I think you are handling this situation beautifully, so what I have on offer is encouragement and confirmation that 1) Yep, something seems at least a little off* about this guy’s high pressure sales tactics, demands for personal details, and immediate, ever-escalating contact, 2) Even if he turned out to be totally above-board, it would be okay to nope out simply because you don’t like his style, and 3) You do not have to join the class WhatsApp group, ever. Hold fast!

[*My automatic response to “negging” and other high-pressure tactics is Absolutely Not. Only for SERIOUS students you say? And I have to sign up RIGHT NOW? Absolutely Not. Absolutely Not is also my policy for unprompted video calls from people I don’t know. Now that I think about it, that also holds for people I do know. Surprise Camera! No thank you. And there is no earthly reason he actually needs your home address for an online-only course. You were very smart to balk. At all of this.]

Script, if you need one: “Oh, thank you, but if you want to reach me about class topics please use my school email or the college’s online system.” I recommend emailing something like this at least once via your/his official course email so that it’s on record in case you need to escalate at some point.

Repeat as necessary, don’t argue or justify or explain, and keep right on not joining or giving out your number. Nobody associated with this class needs to know that you even have a cell phone or know what WhatsApp is.

Script if he brings up your earlier encounter/the fact that you blocked him on WhatsApp to try to get you to change your mind: “This course is a better fit for me than private tutoring, and I realized I prefer to keep personal social media separate from professional and school contacts. My email [or the school system] will work just fine if you need to reach me about anything related to class.”

Don’t be vague or apologetic in an effort to spare his feelings, and remember that reasons are for reasonable people. You don’t have to convince him that he’s being a weirdo in order to set this boundary.

Now, your instructor might try to harp on the fact that it’s “easier” if you join the group, meaning he only has to drop announcements there instead of sending them through the college’s system. I am telling you, that is not a good enough reason.* He should send official course announcements via the college’s system and/or the official email you used to sign up for the course as a baseline. He should not distribute students’ personal information to each other. (If you decide you want to video chat with some of your fellow students, you can handle that on a case-by-case basis as you get to actually know them. In your shoes, I’d also be pretty interested to know the experiences of other female students with Mr. Video! Chat! Right! Now! as the class goes on.)

If he doesn’t get the message and keeps bothering you, and/or if you get the same behavior from fellow students, figure out who his boss is and make the fuss you’ve been trying to avoid until now. If the instructor is new at teaching at a college and used to being informal about these things, somebody above him needs to clue him in. If you end up needing to do this, don’t mince words: “Intrusive,” “invasive,” “careless about student privacy”, “ignoring direct request to use official channels,” etc. Find that “Per My Last Email” energy inside yourself and apply it.

[*Note: I have taught many, many college courses where collaboration outside of class time was absolutely necessary to doing the work. When forming project groups, facilitating this without invading students’ privacy can be as simple as “Please figure out how you plan to stay in touch with each other, using a form of communication you are comfortable sharing and that you check regularly, and decide on ground rules about when it’s okay to get in touch and reasonable response times. Being respectful and professional about communication with your crew members is part of your Participation grade.” On the first day of class, when I don’t know anything about these people, I am not making them give each other their phone numbers.]

I hope this guy accepts your gift of a fresh start and that you have an enjoyable experience learning more of the language!


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