Ginger Pop: What Not to Say to an English Teacher

When I tell people I teach English for a living, I get different reactions. Some politely ask me where, some just nod to show that they are pretending to be interested when they aren’t, and some actually ask questions about details to show that they are interested. Those types of reactions, however, are not the norm. There are a few standard responses that not just I, but my colleagues, get when we tell people what we do. I’m also supplying the truthful response that we are most likely too polite to say.

“I love reading. Have you read [insert name of commercially successful, but critically panned book here]? It’s so good!”

Chances are we may have heard of the book, but we probably haven’t read it. Or if we have, we probably don’t think it is as great as you do. Don’t take it personally; we’re glad that you love 50 Shades of Gray. We just don’t like it.

I always hated English. I was terrible at it.” or “My English teacher was horrible. She hated me.”

I’m not sure how we are supposed to respond to this. We’re sorry? We won’t bother you with our reading and writing? We’ll warn the others?

“Really? I wrote a book. I’d love to have you read it and tell me what you think.”

Danger! Danger! This is the worst, most awkward thing to say to an English teacher. Here’s the truth, and I’m sorry if it is rough: we don’t want to read your book. Not because we don’t think it’s good (okay maybe a little because we don’t think it’s good), but for many much more practical reasons. We spend so much time grading papers and giving our students feedback, in our spare time we like to read what we want. That probably isn’t a work in progress. Also, our opinions are subjective. In most cases, people don’t actually want an honest opinion. They want to be told how good it is. The nature of our profession is that every piece of writing can always be better. So we are going to disappoint you by not loving it. Instead, maybe ask for suggestions for a writing group or something practical that doesn’t put the person on the spot, struggling to find a polite way to tell you no.

So having shared that, I wonder, do other professions get questions like these? If you say you work at Chili’s, do people tell you the history of their visits to Chili’s? Do architects get asked to look at building sketches by amateurs?