13 Common Sayings to Avoid

by Richard Curwin

When I was a new teacher in middle school several centuries ago, I occasionally said things to students that I later regretted. In the last few years, I have witnessed or heard teachers say additional regretful things to students. Recently, I asked students in my graduate courses (all practicing teachers) if they ever told their students anything they regret. After hearing these regrets and talking with children about what teachers said that bothered them, I compiled a list of things that never should be said.

I've narrowed my list to 13 representative items. Some of these are related to control issues, others to motivation, and still more to management. All reflect frustration and/or anger. When school starts this fall, let's wipe these sayings out of our vernacular.

1. "You have potential but don't use it."
Students feel insulted when they hear this, and while some accept it as a challenge to do better, more lose their motivation to care. Instead, say in a caring way, "How can I help you reach your full potential?"

2. "I'm disappointed in you."
Of course we occasionally are disappointed in things that our students do. In addition, the result of openly expressing that disappointment depends as much on the way we say it as the words we use. But students have told me that they hate hearing a teacher say this. The problem with this saying is that it looks to the past. A more helpful approach looks to the future. The alternative might be more like, "What do you think you can do to make a more helpful decision the next time you are in a similar situation?"

3. "What did you say?"
This is the challenge that some teachers might throw down when walking away from a student after a private discussion about behavior and hearing that student whisper something. "What did you say?" is just bait for escalation. Do you really want to know what was whispered? It's better to ignore that unheard comeback and move on. You don't always need to have the last word.

Click here for the complete list.

This article was first posted on Edutopia, August 11, 2015, and is reprinted with permission by the author.

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