What Teachers Say vs. What They Actually Mean

Some of these might hit a little too close to home.

I studied a fair bit of Spanish in high school and college, and in my current job I do international work for a large company—so I feel pretty comfortable classifying myself as bilingual. But there’s also a third, more complex language that I’ve come to learn over the years: Teacher-Speak.

When I married my wife—a dynamic and dedicated middle school teacher—nearly a decade ago, I didn’t realize I would get a crash-course in Teacher-Speak. While this mysterious language sounds like English, it actually contains many nuances and double meanings that you might not catch unless you’ve been exposed for a while. Here are some examples of what I mean:

1. What teachers say: “I have a meeting after school.”

What they actually mean: “There’s a crisis at school. A big one. I don’t know what it is. Nobody does. But we have a mandatory meeting in the gym at the end of the day. They say it will last an hour, but I probably won’t be home until 10 pm. I think if I swing it right I can leave early by pretending my appendix burst. If not, I have a sleeve of Ritz Crackers in my purse that I can trade to someone in exchange for some overripe bananas and a ream of copy paper.”

what teachers say about meetings

2. What teachers say: “I brought home a few papers to grade.”

What they actually mean: “I brought home ALL of the papers to grade. Like, all of the paper that has ever been produced in the history of the world is sitting on our coffee table. I have to spend the rest of the evening and tomorrow morning marking them up and trying to make sure I don’t take away points for correct responses to questions I forgot the answers to. And my red pens are all used up. Do you think anyone will notice if I cross through the wrong answers with ketchup?”

3. What teachers say: “We have standardized testing today.”

What they actually mean: “I will literally be on my feet for 8.5 hours today without a bathroom break or a single crumb of food, overseeing a life-or-death exam in a subject area that I haven’t so much as thought about since high school. When you get home, I will be on the couch with my feet up, a cold compress over my eyes, and a marathon of House Hunters International playing quietly in the background. You are welcome to join me if you like. If not, there’s a frozen pizza on the counter.”


what teachers say about testing

4. What teachers say: “I have to buy a few supplies for my classroom.”

What they actually mean: “I’m glad we decided to buy that boxy, practical, ‘family-sized’ car because I’m going to Target this weekend to clean out whatever aisle they keep poster board and magic markers in. Then I’m hitting the lone remaining bookstore in the entire metropolitan area to purchase a new class set of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I’m pretty sure the copies I bought last year are holding up the wobbly chairs in the cafeteria. But, hey! I think I get a 5 percent teacher discount!”

what teachers say about school supplies

5. What teachers say: “I’m helping plan the end of the year field trip.”

What they actually mean: “There is literally a 50 percent chance that, come the end of May, I will actually be driving a school bus.”

what teachers say about field trips

6. What teachers say: “I’m showing a movie in class today.”

What they actually mean: “It’s the end of the school year and I’m tired. I know my students have seen The Chronicles of Narnia like 8,000 times but I’m exhausted, I have 100 essays to grade, and I’ve run out of lesson plans. I’m content to sit at the back of my classroom and let Aslan be the teacher today.”

what teachers say about movies

7. What teachers say: “I need a glass of wine.”

What they actually mean: “Bring me all of the wine. And a straw. In a big glass. Wait, no. Not a glass. Just pour the whole bottle in that flower vase, leave it next to that stack of papers I haven’t graded, and leave me alone. I have a faculty meeting tomorrow.”

what teachers say about wine