What the students say the teacher said

An inventive youngster can give a good twist to teacher's words. At least, that's been my experience. And every school year offers ample opportunity for multitudinous statements that start, ``Teacher says. . . .'' While still a classroom teacher I was strolling through the school supply section of one of the major discount houses early on Saturday morning. From the other side of the display came a child's voice. ``Mr. Churchill says we need a big box of crayons.''

Hearing my name thus used, I walked around the end of the counter. There was one of my fifth-grade students clutching the largest box of crayons I had ever seen. When she saw me, she had the grace to duck her head. With obvious regret she replaced the huge box and selected one only slightly smaller. ``I guess this one will do,'' she told her mother.

Her misstatement remained our secret. What I actually had told the class was, ``If possible, bring a box of 16 crayons. Otherwise eight will be fine.'' The smallest box I saw that year contained 16 colors. Several children showed up with 64, making me wonder how many parents were treated to a variation of ``Teacher says.''

To give parents a bit of an edge this year, it might help to look at some common statements attributed to ``teacher,'' and then see what was actually said.

Statement uttered several minutes before a child's normal bedtime: ``Teacher said we were to watch the late movie so we can write a report on it in class tomorrow.''

A more accurate translation of what the teacher said: ``There's a good National Geographic special on tonight. If you want to watch it and then write a short summary, I'll give extra credit in either science or social studies.''

The child quoted probably really did need extra credit because she fell asleep in class after having persuaded her parents that watching the late movie was required.

Statement made when passing the cereal counter while doing the week's grocery shopping: ``Teacher said we should eat a bowl of this cereal every morning.''

The hapless teacher actually said: ``Eat a good breakfast, some cereal maybe. That'll give you enough energy to get through the morning.'' Naturally the teacher never mentioned the particular cereal offering a ray gun for $2.95 plus one box top -- the cereal the parents bought.

Statement made at the height of a political discussion with a neighbor: ``Teacher said our best presidents are Republicans.'' Actually the teacher said, ``Abraham Lincoln was considered a great president. He was also our first Republican president.'' So much for political discussions with neighbors.

Statement made at the dinner table the night of the local election in which the parent didn't vote. ``Teacher said anyone who doesn't vote is a Communist.''

The teacher really said, ``The right to vote is both a privilege and a responsibility. People living under Communist rule still vote, but the Communist Party actually controls the election.''

During one especially enlightening session of parent conferences, I was able to correct some statements made by me and somehow mangled by inventive students. As a result, the class and I spent a few moments straightening out the use of ``Teacher says.''

It was later reported to me that one child went home and told her parents, ``Teacher says the next one of us who misquotes him will get every single privilege taken away from now until June.''

What I actually said was, ``The next one who misquotes me will get every single privilege taken away from now until June.''

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