Teacher Sayings

I wanted to collect in one place various sayings, some explicitly about teaching and others not, that I have considered useful in the past.  Suggestions for additions welcome.

***EDIT*** I started this page with just commonly heard phrases in teaching.  I’m now expanding it out to include quotes from Twitter and blogs that I’ve read.

‘Silence is unambiguous, it is not open to interpretation, and this creates a clarity of expectations for my pupils.’ – https://jemmaths.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/to-talk-or-not-to-talk-that-is-the-question/

‘Data must serve teachers, rather than teachers serving data’ – Joe Kirby

‘You haven’t taught them anything unless it’s been learned’ – John Wooden

‘Dividing schemes of work into individual lessons distracts teachers from concentrating on what is to be learned over time […] Anyone who judges learning, or worse, teaching on a single lesson is a fool.’ – David Didau

‘the 80-15-5 rule: 80% of most classes will want to comply with you most of the time, 15% will test you on a regular basis and 5% will have serious issues and need an individual response’Johny Young 3456?

‘To learn how to write well one must know how to speak well’ Phil Beadle in a tweet.

‘There are many things schools do because it’s how it always been done rather than because it’s what’s best.’ Laura Jane


Don’t expect, inspect.  Assessment is important.  If a year eleven boy can talk intelligently about Lord of the Flies, don’t expect he can write intelligently about it unless you’ve inspected his writing.  If you have taught students what epistrophe is and how to use it one lesson, don’t expect they will still know about it in a month’s time.  Set and mark work, and set regular knowledge quizzes.  Source: a former boss, who had quit teaching.

Guide on the side / sage on the stage: a way of dividing teachers into those who use inquiry based learning so that students discover things for themselves, and those who ‘just tell them’ (respectively).

Teach to the top: the principle that when you plan lessons, you should plan them with the smartest kid in that class in mind – will they find this too easy? Etc.

Leadership is 10% action, 90% communication. I think I read this here.  It’s just something I’ve been thinking about a bit recently – the feedback going both ways between SLT and teachers, as it should do between teachers and students.

Explanation, demonstration, application.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the core of teaching: ‘this is how you write an essay conclusion, kids’; ‘here’s three examples: one good, one medium, one bad’; ‘okay, now you write an essay conclusion’.  Many, many times, students have misunderstood something because I’ve been sloppy with my explanations or haven’t given an example/enough examples.

What you permit, you promote.  Assume that if you don’t call a student out on talking out of turn/not underlining the title/staring out the window as you talk to them, that is the equivalent of explicitly saying, ‘I don’t mind if you do that thing‘.  Also, the next time you do pick up on a student for doing that thing, they will say, ‘but you didn’t mind when [insert student name here] did it!  You’re being unfair’.  I don’t believe in ‘tactically ignoring’ – if I do it, it’s because I’m being lazy.  Source: can’t remember

Sweat the small stuff.  Someone once said to me this was the best advice they could give on behaviour management.  I guess one of the problems with enforcing it might be the feeling of pettiness as you tell off a student for picking up a pen or looking out of a window when you’re talking.

You shouldn’t be the hardest-working person in the room.  I used to feel guilty if my class was busily writing and I wasn’t doing anything.  Source: unknown

Chalk and talk.  A term I think people generally use negatively to refer to someone talking and explaining things to class.  ‘Whiteboard pen and talk’ presumably less catchy, if more accurate.  Source: unknown.

Practice makes permanent.   This modification of ‘practice makes perfect’ is from David Didau, or at least that’s where I have seen it.  If a student constantly writes ‘its’ when they mean ‘it’s’, without the teacher correcting them, this will become permanent.

Don’t use a cannonball to kill a mosquito.  Calmness comes from setting minor detentions for minor things.  I understand at MCS they set 20min detentions for things like not having the right equipment.  This has lead to excellent behaviour.  I used to set two minute detentions every time a student called out, tapped their pen, looked out the window (I only don’t now because the school I currently work at has much better-behaved students).  It’s far better then tolerating, understanding, and ‘tactically ignoring’ minor disruptions until you lose your temper on a student.  Source: Confucious.

Certainty is better than severity.  This applies to sanctions.  If you always give a ten minute detention for talking out of turn, this is far more likely to get you students who listen than giving a thirty minute detention occasionally, when the kid’s been doing it a lot, or when you’re annoyed.

The 80/20 rule.  This is the idea that things in life aren’t spread equally.  In teaching, for example, 20% of your classroom activities might be responsible for 80% of your students’ progress.  I think this one’s worth bearing in mind because teaching consists of so many little jobs.  Doing any one thing means not doing something else (opportunity cost).  Thus, we need to work out what is the most useful and least useful, cut out the latter, and replace it with the former.

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.  This is attributed to Napoleon and I think it’s worth bearing in mind when it comes to student behaviour.  There’s no point getting angry with students if they didn’t know or had forgotten they were supposed to do the task in silence / stand behind their chairs before leaving the classroom / come and see you before the lesson if they don’t have their homework.

If you seek peace, prepare for war.  This is the kind of quote is sure to have me accused of not caring for students, seeing education as conlict, and generally being a bad person.  All I mean by it is that a school needs to have sanctions, if for no other reason than as deterrents.  Teachers need to know they will be backed if they sanction a child.

Don’t reinvent the wheel.  I think this is probably the most common in new teachers.  Teachers never have much time, so being efficient and prioritising are two really key skills.  Getting lessons off TES, doing the same lesson with top set year eight as you do with mid-set year nine, collaborative planning of SOWs, etc.  Found on a blog.

Memory is the residue of thought. I am fairly certain this first comes from Daniel Willingham in ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’.

If you can say it, you can write it.  I think Didau says this in his book on literacy.  I was skeptical on the idea of ‘oracy’, but I have learnt from experience.  A fairly common problem in the English classroom, for example, is for students to say ‘back in the day’ as a generic term for anything written before the year 2000.  If you force them to say ‘the Regency period’, ‘in 1604’ or ‘in Elizabethan England’ they will write that in their essays.

Don’t expect students to know anything unless they’ve been explicitly taught it.  I think I saw Joe Kirby tweet this, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, particularly with regard to behaviour.

Poacher turned gamekeeper:  A badly-behaved student (the poacher) becomes a teacher (the gamekeeper).  I think the idea is that they’ll be quite good at teaching, as they’ll know all the naughty ones’ tricks.

Don’t plan lessons, plan learning:  I just read this here, but I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve come across it.  My old Head of Department used to say that learning objectives should focus on what students are learning, not on what they’re doing.  It’s entirely possible for students to be active, engaged, and busy, for a solid period, and for them to learn nothing.

Children don’t want to be successful adults, they want to be successful childrenI’ve just seen this here.