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Teachers' Tales

teachers' tales

Any teacher who has spent more than a few weeks in a classroom will have stories to tell about something that was said or done which resulted in hilarity, embarrassment, possibly contract termination.

This page needs those stories from you! Something terrible you did. Something terrible a student did. Something embarrassing, frightening, hilarious, offensive... Whatever you feel belongs on this page, fill out the form below and send it in!

The Stories So Far...

I was teaching in a language mill in downtown Suzhou one day, (2nd month in China - 6.5 years now) and as I passed the reception desk on the way to another class, one of the Course Consultants stopped me.

"Zak, can you give us an English name for this young girl ?"

I was in a bit of a hurry, so I glanced at the girl and her well dressed mother and said the first name that popped into my head and seemed suitable for the girl.

How about "Debbie"? You could hear a pin drop.

"Uhhhh, not a good name".

"OK, Janey"

"That's better"

"Debbie" or a similar sounding word in the Nanjing (200 km away) dialect means 'vulva' as I discovered from a more open-minded Chinese lady teacher. Oops ! Won't make that mistake again......
Tom, China

I teach in a french speaking country. One evening 40 minutes after the class had ended, a mother rushed in to collect her daughter. She apologised saying "Sorry mais I am sage femme" I understood enough 'sage' means good and 'femme' means woman.

I replied haughtily "I too am a 'sage femme', but I at least remember to collect my kids on time"  It was only after some explanation and miming that I understood that sagefemme is a midwife. A good example of not doing a literal translation.
Annette, France

In my first year of teaching English here in Turkey, I made all sorts of amusing mistakes. Here is one. I was teaching suffixes, namely -ish, as in "like". (Okay, I admit, a pretty lame point to be teaching but I thought it was neato at the time and I was very VERY green at that time)
Well, I handed out the photocopied material to my adult students and began the exercises. 1. I dont have a watch but I think it is twelve-ish. Very good. 2. She is 45 years old but she looks youngish.
However when I got to the third sentence, the entire class went into a weird inexplicable mode. One girl actually refused to say the words. Strange, thinks I. All the young men were giggling and snickering. Putting my foot down, I put on my little dictator mode and plowed my way through it.
Later in the evening, after hours, I explained the odd reactions of the class to my Turkish friends and, to my dismay, I was given exactly the same response!
3. She didnt come to work today because she was feeling sickish.
Unknown to me, the word "sick" in Turkish means.. well,hmm.. the male reproductive organ. "Ish" means work. Together the words are commonly used in Turkish to mean " sexual activity" in a fairly vulgar way. This was NOT one of my finest moments in the classroom but I am sure the students had a real hoot.
Mike, USA but living in Turkey

When I was an ESL student myself, struggling, like most English language learners, with phrasal verbs. Today I teach ESL, and I always share this anecdote with my students. I had recently started working as a waiter. At some point, on campus, while still in ESL, an American acquaintance approached me and asked me if I worked out. To me this seemed like an odd question to ask, but since I worked at an indoor restaurant, I replied that I did not work out. I worked in.

The other student, trying hard to control his laughter, proceeded to ask again if I worked out, and now, getting a bit annoyed, I again replied that I did not work out. I worked IN. I worked at an "indoor" restaurant, not outdoors. Finally the student explained to me that working out meant exercising. I had only been in the United States approximately three months, so this was a very embarassing experience particularly for someone like me who was always a perfectionist and had minimal tolerance for mistakes when I communicated with others.

Today, sharing this anecdote with my ESL students, I can look back and laugh with my students!
Robert Ceballos, Spain

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It was my first day teaching Kindergarten alone at a language school in South Korea. My boss was very adamant about the children not being allowed to speak Korean. So, like a good worker ant, I kept shouting at the student the whole time to stop speaking Korean (what a waste of time). One little boy was especially getting on my nerves because he was jumping up and down and speaking Korean (boss told me he was a handful). I told him very forcibly to sit down and stop speaking Korean. Next thing I knew, he went quiet and started staring at the floor. A minute later I took a peek and realized he had peed his pants! Any guesses what he was saying in Korean?
Evan, America

One fine morning , the phone rang  "Mrs Dar, are you free?"
'Well, it depends..I remembered the most common and frequent answer, one of our Tutors gave in the Nottingham University ELT Applied Linguistics class.
"actually one of our teachers has had an accident and she will not be able to continue."
This was Mrs Reza Principal from the local PAF  College of Education.
" you could give me some more info"
If you could come tomorrow morning by ten.  One thing. .what remuneration would you expect?"
AH, I want to be a millionaire! Ah! Me The Teacher! A Dream !
I wanted to say. A million Ma'am please..
But all I managed was 'well according to your college rules, if .er.
OK Then its settled"
And thus I found myself facing a large class of seventy odd students 'all these will study English? "I looked around with baleful eyes, regions of sorrow, deep scars English stress had entrenched the pale cheeks, dismal situation, worse and study a foreign compulsory language is torture , endless..Ah my drifting thoughts ..stop. .or pandemonium will prevail.
'Yes and there is another section.
'English is now compulsory..for all Teachers ,they must know how to teach it" The other'section had sixty students...AH My  Poor soul!!!
"Girls I have brought you a very experienced teacher and now you are in safe hands"
The Principal gave a loud introduction and left the class; I felt that she almost scurried out of the classroom; reminded me of the white rabbit of ' Alice in Wonderland'
The girls looked at me as if asking in the language of the Caterpillar' WHOOOO RRRRRR UUUUUUUUU..'and 'YYYYYYYYYYY' RRRRRRR , UUUUUUUUUU , here' I sensed the anxiety in the restless whispering in the room.
'Miss!' a student called out.
Well first of all I am not a Miss' I am a Mrs.
Well Ma/am..for us you are and for...mumble jumble.and loud laughter rang out in the classroom.
What did she say?
I looked around inquiringly.'ma'am she said 'for us , you are a Miss and for your husband you are a Mrs'. Oh Dear. Was she right in this?
I smiled and started afresh. My name is ..
When I took the first assignment for checking I found more than a dozen varieties of my name.
Ms Dar,  Miss Anjum, Mdm anjum, Mrs Anjum Waseem. Mrs Unjum, Miss Injum..well..
anjum wasim dar, Pakistan

I have been teaching ESL in Vietnam for almost 4 years now, and have several interesting stories, but will relate one of the funniest from the class-room environment.
Vietnamese have a particular problem with pronunciation, in particular, the final consonants in most words.
I have a few business classes which involve using the word "Fax". When this is said with an uncorrected Vietnamese accent, of course the "eks" pronunciation of the "X" is missing, and becomes a "K", so the word "fax" sounds like "Fak".
I like to take new teachers into these classes so they cabn see the funny side of the job, and the Viets then go into a conversation role play that goes something like this:

S1. I tried to fak you yesterday, but you weren't in.
S2. I would have been very happy to receive your fak, but at the time I was faking somebody else- sorry.
S1. So if I fak you tomorrow at about 2 pm will that be OK?
S2. Yes, you can fak me any time you like.

Of course the participants have no idea why the new teacher is in fits of laughter at this, but when the lesson progresses and we get to the correction part, and the error is pointed out, and what the alternative means, the students first become very embarrassed, but this turns into giggles as they begin to realize what they had just been saying.
Ray Connors, Australia

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I teach an EFL class of eight, 45-year-old seaport managing personnel at a private English school in Izmit, Turkey. They are all males and verbally very expressive. We were discussing current affairs and i started a conversation on the death of Pope John Paul. The word for "Pope" in Turkish is "Papa" and the word for "butt" is "popo". To start off the discussion I began to speak in Turkish confusing the two words. My questions translated in English were as follows: "What do you think about the death of the butt (popo)?
Aisha Thornton, Pakistan but living in Turkey

Yesterday, I was teaching an Elementary English class. I was teaching "Don't" and Doesn't". These elements are known as "olumsuz" in Turkish and I was constantly saying the word for "immortal" which is ölümsuz" in Turkish. At the end of the lesson one of the students corrected me and we all had a good laugh at my constant confusing Turkish words.
Aisha Thornton, Pakistan but teaching in Turkey

One memorable experience back in my beginning days of teaching in Japan might've been missed if I spoke British English, or knew Japanese a bit better. There I was starting class with some free talk when I asked one woman what she did on the weekend. I got the same old typical response, 'shopping.' So, I decided to delve deeper. 'What did you buy?' 'Clothes.' I was determined to get some sort of detailed response, 'Did you buy shirts or pants?' Her face turned a subtle pink, looked around at her classmates, and said, 'I bought two shirts and one pants.' Ahh, 'One pair of pants.' I corrected, 'What color were the pair of pants?' I went on. Her face now became red, not subtle, 'Pink with white spots,' she stuttered. Noticing she was wearing pink pants I innocently asked, 'Are you wearing those pants today?' Now the whole class had traffic light red faces as quietly said, 'Yes.' As the oblivious American barbarian I continued, 'Can you stand up and show us?' Her terrified eyes popped out of her head and nearly hit the table. That when my manager, who was sitting in on the class FINALLY chimed in and pointed out, 'Art, in Japan pantsu means underwear.' Funny enough, there was plenty of conversation after that.
Art, USA

During my first year of teaching in Dalian, PRC, I went with Steven, one of my students, to his "small" (pop.500K) city near Sheyang, NE China.

With his parents and a driver, we had lunch (like a seven-course meal!) in a surprisingly ornate restaurant in the countryside.

Midway through the meal, I noticed a pile of apparent yellow napkins on a plate near the end of the table. They looked a bit thick and solid, but I picked one up and mopped my lower face and mouth.

Conversation stopped, and everyone stared at me, aghast. Wha'd I do wrong? Steven, blushing and in halting English, English, told me "Teacher Ernie, we eat those."

The whole restaurant exploded in laughter; Steven turned red and had such a laughing fit that he nearly choked. His mother, a rather dignified lady, wasn't far from that stage. Turns out it was a traditional dish from his "minority" ethnic group.

I then tried eating it. The "napkin" was actually a kind of cheesecloth (apparently edible after a fashion) heavily impregnated with corn meal. Kind of chewy, but I got some of it down. Had to keep from feeling too much the "round eyed" fool!
Ernie Danek, Cedar Rapids, IA USA

We were learning names of occupations, having students come to the front, I show him or her a picture of someone working, and they act out the job while the class guesses what they are, whoever guesses first gets to act next. I showed a boy a picture of a dentist, he nodded at me like he knew what to do, stepped up and took a golf swing.
Salina, China

I have only just started teaching this group and have only been back in ESL teaching for a couple of weeks. I am used to teaching 15 year old Australian girls and keep getting myself in trouble with having to teach far more conservative adult students from places like Thailand and the Middle East. This story is fresh because it happened today. I had the students using the computers in a self access class and they were researching slang. One very shy new student had come across the word 'fanny' which is NOT the same in Australia as it is in the States. The website defined it as 'Vagina (US - bottom)' but needless to say he did not find this description enlightening and asked me to explain. I, in a fit of cowardice, went for the American definition and left a fellow Student (from the far more liberated South America) to explain the Aussie version of the slang.
Annella, Australia

I was teaching an elementary class a while ago and I wanted to ensure that I had the pronunciation of the new students' names correct so I wouldn't offend or embarrass them when introducing them to the class. You can imagine my surprise when I came to a Korean student who was insistent that his name was "F*ckn". I asked him to repeat a few times thinking maybe I'd misheard him. ("F*ckn", "F*ckn" and yes, "F*ckn" was the response each time). Then I came upon the idea that maybe this was a Korean name with an unfortunate English meaning but when asked "Do you have an English name?" the response was "Yes, F*ckn". Looking very concerned and racking my brain for some kind of solution, I cast my eye over the list of students. Clearly, this is what I should have done in the first place because my next utterance was "Oh! You mean FALCON". "Yes, F*ckn." was the response.
Lisa, Brisbane

I teach ESL in California to Spanish speaking 1st graders. I have many funny stories to tell but my worst mistake comes from my attempts to communicate with parents. Often there is no one available to translate a note. I know some basic (key word - BASIC) Spanish but am not fluent(I can say "be quiet", "get your backpack", "pick up your child at 3:00", and simple things like that.) Often to get a note out on time, I am forced to translate my own notes. Once I made a spelling error that changed the meaning of my note from bring a "bottle" of water.. to bring a "boot" of water. But my worse mistake is when I bought a translation program and "trusted" the program to do things right. I wrote a simple note about a field trip where we were going to eat hot dogs and chips in the park. Children were requested to bring a beverage. Later I was informed that the note read in Spanish that the kids were going on a trip to the country, and that they would eat Hot -"caliente - too warm or sexy" Dogs -"perros - the animal". They would also be eating wood chips and should bring liquor. Not exactly my intended meaning!
Leah, California

One day, about eight years ago, I was teaching an advanced group and had them doing some conversation exercise, which I eventually wanted to bring to a close. I stood at the front, clapped my hands and waited as the group slowly got the message, except for two young women, who were deep in conversation. I then whistled and one of them looked at me and said, "We are not dogs!" Not being one to miss a vocab opportunity, I said, "No, you are bitches!" Fortunately, they still speak to me when we meet in the street.
Mel Tisdale, England

It was my first week teaching a group of high school kids in Paraguay. After I finished giving directions for an activity I noticed one boy with a nasty look on his face was gesturing towards me: he put the fingers of one hand together, pointing upward and shook his hand several times up and down. I assumed (and we all know what happens when you assume!) that it was something vulgar and told him angrily that he could never make that gesture again in my class. I found out later that it means only "what the heck are you talking about--I'm so confused".
Helmi Shepard, USA

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