Six English teacher deceptions

English teachers can be very crafty folk. As a teacher trianer I’ve seen many an artful dodger wriggle out of a tough grammar question or awkward situation. For those of you not wise to the ways of the tricky teacher, here are six common “deceptions”. Each is followed by what the teacher usually means, and some commentary.

1. That’s a good question. Does anyone have an answer to that question?

What it often means: I have no idea. 

A popular gambit to get out of a difficult grammar question and yet appear very learner centred and encouraging of learner independence. Follow up with: “Ok, everyone please find out for homework.”

2. T: What’s your name again?    S: Miguel.    T: No I know it’s Miguel, I meant your last name.

What it often means: I can’t remember your name, at all. 

Very clever bit of deception here, I picked this one up from the director of a school in France. Amazingly useful. If your student answers Rodriguez then just substitute last for first in the above exchange.

3. We are going to study this another day.

What it often means: I don’t know enough about this and yor questions are making me nervous.

A convenient smokescreen. Some teachers may say this and just hope the student doesn’t remember the question.

4. It’s American English.

What it often means: I don’t know if it is correct or not. It could be wrong, but I won’t take that chance especially if you heard it on television.

As a speaker of North American English, this “deception” is always annoying. Many Spanish teachers of English have confessed using this one to me. But I’ve heard a fair share of Brits use it too. Before I get too het up about it I have to admit hearing Americans using “It’s British English” in a similar way (to mean “it sounds too formal to be correct” and/or “you sound weird if you say it like that”).

5. Two more minutes. 

What it often means: I’m getting impatient. You’ve had long enough.

It’s hardly ever two minutes when a teacher says that. It’s more like 40 seconds. Unless of course the teacher is running late, or still needs time to organise something for the lesson. In that case, two minutes could mean five minutes. 

6. I would tell you, but it would just confuse you more. English is hard.

What it often means: I don’t know the answer or I didn’t even understand your question. Don’t bother me.

These fall into the category of what I’ve called “shock and awe” tactics. This is a not-so-subtle way of reminding the student of who’s boss. It can sound very condescending. This attitude becomes a bit self-defeating when the teacher gets frustrated with the class and shouts something like “For God’s sake, this isn’t rocket science!” You can’t have it both ways. Shock and awe tactics often include simliar comments about the impossiblity of learning English spelling, phrasal verbs or verbs that take ing/infinitive.


Of course I don’t believe we should go out and lie to our students, but before you think I’m being high and mighty with my list, I confess right now that I have used all of these at least once in my career.  Right though, over to everyone. Have you got any more typical deceptive tricks? Please, no offensive or rude comments!

Published in: on March 19, 2009 at 7:01 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. No more to add, giggled my way through the list with a nodding head, especially no.6.

    Of course I do try to say ‘I don’t know’ which is always very well respected but oh dear, sometimes it’s just easier to go with one of these!

    Hee, hee


  2. A great way of masking ignorance or of saving face (or both!) is to say, “Well, it’s an exception”. As in:
    Teacher: “Proper nouns don’t have articles”.
    Student (producing an example such as “The Great Lebowski”) Huh?
    Teacher: “Well, it’s an exception”.

    Students seem to accept, unquestioningly, that language rules have exceptions, and even that “the exception proves the rule”. Without exceptions, where would we be?

  3. My particular favourite (and I think it falls into this category) is the retort “Because it’s English” when a student asks why something is so. For example – why do we use auxiliary verbs for questions … AND negatives? Well, quite simply, “because it’s English, Pablo”!

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