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June 22, 2018 Friday 10:17:01 AM IST

10 Common Phrases Teachers Should Never Say to Students

Teacher Insights

Teachers tend t use so many phrases, either to motivate the students, make them feel ashamed and do better, to make her point clear with sacrasm, the reason could be logical, yet it is better if a teacher could stay away from using such phrases. It can create, at least for some of the students, deep wound in their psyche and can have a longer impact in his/ her later life.

Here are some of the phrases a teacher should always stay away from using.

1. “Act your age.”

Also phrased as, “You are acting like a ____________,” with the blank filled in with someone younger (1st grader, 2-year-old, etc…).  This may be the first comment that comes to mind when a student begins to cry or have an angry tantrum.  However, it will not bring you the magical result of a suddenly mature student (or spouse – trust me on that one).  


2.“You’re so smart!”

Many people think they are actually giving a compliment when they say this.  However, recent studies seem to indicate that the implication of that statement is that the student was fortunate enough to be born with the necessary intelligence to perform the assigned task flawlessly – which also implies the student’s performance has nothing to do with effort.  When the student inevitably attempts something that does not come easily, he or she may quickly give up because of a belief that there’s no point trying things that good genetics haven’t already perfected.   

3.“Weren’t you listening the first time?”

It’s quite often the same students who regularly don’t hear our instructions; asking the student to explain why he or she didn’t find our words captivating enough to pay close attention to them just wastes everyone’s time.


4.“I can’t hear you.”

And then there are the students who speak in a whisper, making it impossible for you or their classmates to hear their responses.  Asking quiet students to speak up generally becomes a comical exchange as you try to tell them to yell like they are on the playground, and their volume actually decreases.  

5.“Maybe you’re just not a math person.”Despite the apparent disconnect, “You’re so smart,” and “Maybe you’re just not a math person,” are closely related.  By categorizing students as “math people” and “not math people,” we imply that one is either born with numerical prowess or not – and that there is no point in trying very hard if you are one of the unfortunate ones in the latter group.  Scholars like JoAnn Boaler at Stanford University are trying hard to disabuse people of this notion by promoting a growth mindset in math.

6. “I can’t give you credit because you didn’t show your work.”


This can be extremely frustrating for bright students who have such a good grasp on a particular skill that they can work it out mentally.  In fact, some students may choose not to do the work at all because they resent being slowed down by writing out every step.  There are times, however, when showing work is important so the teacher can identify if there is true understanding of the concept.

7. “I thought you were smart” or “This should be easy for you”

These are definitely not motivational statements.  If a student is having difficulty with something, it’s important not to belittle his or her struggle as it will likely just increase the feelings of panic and frustration.

8. “I never give A’s.”


This will discourage more students than the few (if any) that it motivates.  One of my college professors stated this at the beginning of the semester, and fulfilled his promise by returning every one of my assignments underlined completely in red and an unexplained “B” at the top of the paper.  If you are trying to communicate that you have high expectations and don’t appreciate slackers, telling students that even hard workers aren’t good enough in your professional opinion certainly won’t increase their drive to do their best.

9.  “Please sit still.”

Despite the apparent politeness of this statement (which could change, depending on the tone), this sentence will most likely lose its effect after you use it 25 times a day – particularly if it is aimed at the same student each time.  More and more teachers are realizing that giving students plenty of opportunities for movement during the school day can actually increase attention spans as well as learning.    A search on Donors Choose, the site that allows teachers to crowdfund classroom supplies, will yield endless pages of teachers who have specifically required various items to allow for “flexible seating” in their classrooms.

10. “I really like the way Johnny did his assignment.”


Using other students as good examples may seem like a great way to inspire the rest of the class, but it may generate resentment for Johnny and also cause the others to second-guess their own performance on the lesson. (“Why didn’t she choose mine to show the class?”) Older students certainly see through this manipulation and may be less inclined to put effort into their own work for rebellious reasons.

(Indebted to various sources)



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