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It's Not What You Say It's How You Say It!


As conference time once again approaches, many teachers are faced with the prospect of revealing to hopeful -- and sometimes hostile -- parents unwelcome truths about their cherished offspring. The most experienced teachers know, however, that sometimes the truth is best presented with a little subtlety and a lot of tact. Education World editor Linda Starr offers 20 of her favorite phrases from the Dictionary of Education Euphemisms.

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Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four children, has been an education writer for nearly two decades. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.

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When I started teaching, nothing about the job frightened me more than the prospect of parent-teacher conferences and the repercussions of report card revelations. As a first-grade teacher, I knew that I would be one of the first teachers to enlighten proud and hopeful parents about the intellectual, behavioral, or social shortcomings of their cherished offspring. Would they hate me, I wondered? Would they blame me? Would they call for my head on a plate? The answer to all those questions, I quickly discovered, was "Yes!," "Yes!," and "Yes!"

When I explained to one father that his son was reading below grade level, he assured me that that was impossible. The problem, he said, was that my teaching was below grade level. A mother confronted with a mountain of other children's belongings taken from her son's desk informed me angrily that "The evidence was planted." An executive, told that his daughter needed to repeat first grade, asked me why he should listen to a teacher whose salary was 5 percent of his own.

Oh, yes, my parent conferences that first year were every bit the horror I had feared they would be. It was clear that I needed to develop better techniques for dealing with the parents of my students, that I needed to learn to communicate with more subtlety and tact, that I needed to hone the most powerful and formidable of all teacher tools -- the education euphemism.

With conference and report card time hard upon us, I'd like to share a few of my more effective euphemisms with you. Because an education euphemism can never be too subtle, translations are provided!


Molly demonstrates problems with spatial relationships.
It's November and she still hasn't found her cubby.

Sarah exhibits exceptional verbal skills and an obvious propensity for social interaction.
She never stops talking.

Paul's leadership qualities need to be more democratically directed.
He's a bully.

Jonathan accomplishes tasks when his interest is frequently stimulated.
He has the attention span of a gnat.

Donald is making progress in learning to express himself respectfully.
He no longer uses vulgarities when talking back to me.

Alfred demonstrates some difficulty meeting the challenges of information retention.
He'd forget his name if it wasn't taped to his desk.

Bunny needs encouragement in learning to form lasting friendships.
Nobody likes her.

Kenny is working toward grade level.
He may even reach it -- next year.

Joel appears to be aware of all classroom activities.
He just can't focus on the one we're involved in.

Sandy seems to have difficulty distinguishing between fact and fantasy.
He lies like a rug.

Allie enjoys dramatization. She may be headed for a career in show business.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to mind.

Takira's creative writing skills are reminiscent of Socrates.
It's all Greek to me.

Elinor is a creative problem solver.
She hasn't gotten an answer right yet.

Jack demonstrates an avid interest in recreational reading.
He "recreates" while other students read.

Mayrita appears to be showing an increased desire to consider demonstrating acceptable classroom behavior.
She now appears to know the classroom rules. Some day she may even obey one.

Pablo participates enthusiastically in all art activities.
He's especially adept at throwing pottery and paint and.

Jeremy is stimulated by participation in sequential activities.
He consistently insists on fighting his way to the front of the recess line.

Juanita needs more home study time.
Could you please keep her home more often?

Michael demonstrates a need for guidance in the appropriate use of time.
Three hours a day is entirely too much time to spend picking his nose.

David frequently appears bored and restless. You might want to consider placing him in a more challenging environment.
Prison, perhaps?

When I first started teaching, of course, it was clear to me that nothing was harder than to be a teacher at a parent-teacher conference. Then, I became a parent!