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Education Quotes and Sayings about Teaching, Learning, Teachers and Students

Dr. Bob Kizlik

Updated August 1, 2014

It's hardly a secret, but there are thousands of web pages that have quotations or sayings about education. Quotes are everywhere. It's no stretch to say that almost everyone appreciates good quotes and sayings, especially ones that convey an important idea. Often, a short quote or saying reflects wisdom, and can have a more profound impact than ten pages of tortured prose, or even some pictures. Below are some of the best I've seen, including the famous "I Taught Them All" and "The Poor Scholar's Soliloquy," both of which are more than 50 years old. Please forgive of bit of self-aggrandizement, as I have included a few of my own sayings.

“Learning, regardless of how it is defined, is ultimately the responsibility of the learner, not the teacher.” Bob Kizlik

The bad teacher's words fall on his pupils like harsh rain; the good teacher's, as gently as dew. Talmud: Ta'anith 7b

Education is like a double-edged sword. It may be turned to dangerous uses if it is not properly handled. Wu Ting-Fang

What people need and what they want may be very different.... Teachers are those who educate the people to appreciate the things they need. Elbert Hubbard

Truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it, but, in the end, there it is. Sir Winston Churchill

Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy. Robert Heinlein

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1

“One learns how to teach and get better at it by actually teaching, analyzing results, and using feedback to improve. Teacher education programs do not teach people how to teach; at best, they prepare students to learn the needed professional skills once they begin teaching.” Bob Kizlik

In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less. Lee Iacocca

I am a teacher! What I do and say are being absorbed by young minds who will echo these images across the ages. My lessons will be immortal, affecting people yet unborn, people I will never see or know. The future of the world is in my classroom today, a future with the potential for good or bad. The pliable minds of tomorrow's leaders will be molded either artistically or grotesquely by what I do.

Several future presidents are learning from me today; so are the great writers of the next decades, and so are all the so-called ordinary people who will make the decisions in a democracy. I must never forget these same young people could be the thieves or murderers of the future.

Only a teacher? Thank God I have a calling to the greatest profession of all! I must be vigilant every day lest I lose one fragile opportunity to improve tomorrow. Ivan Welton Fitzwater

No man who worships education has got the best out of education... Without a gentle contempt for education, no man's education is complete. G. K. Chesterton

If you say you understand something, then you can explain what you understand to others. Anything short of that is deception, not understanding. Education, above all, should not be about fostering deception. In the same vein, anything not understood in more than one way is not understood at all. R. J. Kizlik

Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then, by God, do something. Don't just stand there, make it happen. Lee Iacocca

Good teachers are costly, but bad teachers cost more. Bob Talbert

Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour
falls from the sky a meteoric shower of facts;
They lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
is daily spun,
But there exists no loom
to weave it into fabric.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Huntsman, What Quarry?" 1939

Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Susan B. Anthony

Three things give the student the possibility of surpassing his teacher: ask a lot of questions, remember the answers, teach. Jan Amos Coménius

Everything depends upon the quality of experience . . . just as no man lives or dies to himself, so no experience lives and dies to itself.

Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience.

The central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experience that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences. John Dewey, 1938

When I think about all the crap
I learned in high school . . .
. . . . . it's a wonder I can think at all.
Paul Simon

Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner; put yourself in his place so that you may understand . . . what he learns and the way he understands it. Soren Kierkegaard

The desire to know is far more important than achievement and/or performance measures. Caine & Caine

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. Albert Einstein 1940

The teacher is one who made two ideas grow where only one grew before. Elbert Hubbard

Learning is something students do, NOT something done to students. Alfie Kohn

It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. Albert Einstein

Education, properly understood, is that which teaches discernment. Joseph Roux

Courses in education given at...teachers' colleges have traditionally been used as a substitute for genuine scholarship. In my opinion, much of the so-called science of "education" was invented as a necessary mechanism for enabling semi-educated people to act as tolerable teachers. Sloan Wilson

I have visited sweatshops, factories, and crowded slums. If I could not see it, I could smell it. The foundation of society is laid upon a basis of . . . individualism, conquest and exploitation . . . A social order such as this, built upon such wrong and basic principles, is bound to retard the development of all. The output of a cotton mill or a coal mine is considered of greater importance than the production of healthy, happy-hearted and free human beings. We, the people, are not free. Our democracy is but a name. Helen Keller

If the student-written text is to go beyond the stories about generals and millionaires and queens and kings, teachers have to help their students, in one way or other, to discover and record the voices of the common men and women who reflect the real life out of which all history is made. This is especially the case in writing about minorities, as well as about women.

Our tendency is to attempt to make up for the errors of the past by listing (and praising) as many notable blacks, or women, as we can possibly "collect"--in order, it seems, to struggle back in kind against all of those white male Anglo-Saxon figures who now dominate the school curricula.

We continue, however, to write about important people, prize-winning people, blacks of grandeur, women of great fire, fame or wit. We do not write about ordinary people. Jonathon Kozol On Being a Teacher


I Taught Them All

I have taught high school for 10 years. During that time, I have given assignments, among others, to a murderer, an evangelist, a pugilist, a thief, and an imbecile.

The murderer was a quiet little boy who sat on the front seat and regarded me with pale blue eyes; the evangelist, easily the most popular boy in school, had the lead in the junior play; the pugilist lounged by the window and let loose at intervals a raucous laugh that startled even the geraniums; the thief was a gay-hearted Lothario with a song on his lips; and the imbecile, a soft-eyed little animal seeking the shadows.

The murderer awaits death in the state penitentiary; the evangelist has lain a year now in the village churchyard; the pugilist lost an eye in a brawl in Hong Kong; the thief, by standing on tiptoe, can see the windows of my room from the county jail; and the once gentle-eyed little moron beats his head against a padded wall in the state asylum.

All of these pupils once sat in my room, sat and looked at me gravely across worn brown desks. I must have been a great help to those pupils--I taught them the rhyming scheme of the Elizabethan sonnet and how to diagram a complex sentence. Naomi White 1937

"Insight into soul-action, ability to discriminate the genuine from the sham and capacity to further one and discourage the other." John Dewey

I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a student's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a student humanized or de-humanized. Hiam Ginott


The "Hidden Curriculum"

•The teacher "teaches" and the students "sit and listen" or learn passively.
•There is one "right answer" to any question, and it is in the book to be read.
•The answer to most questions can be given in one or two words, and no one will challenge you to go deeper.
•Books and teachers are always "right", and we learn only from them, not from any other resource in the room, such as our friends.
•If we wait long enough, a teacher will answer her own question, so we won't have to do much work.
•The teacher is the only one worth listening to.
•If we ask enough questions about a difficult assignment, we can get the teacher to make it easier and less demanding.
•"Thinking" is not something we talk about.
•If I memorize enough stuff, I can get a good grade.
•Most tasks and tests will demand recall of isolated pieces of information, and I will not have to show how concepts and ideas are related or how facts illustrate underlying principles. Barrell (1991)

To say that you have taught when students haven't learned is to say you have sold when no one has bought. But how can you know that students have learned without spending hours correcting tests and papers? . . . check students understanding while you are teaching (not at 10 o'clock at night when you're correcting papers) so you don't move on with unlearned material that can accumulate like a snowball and eventually engulf the student in confusion and despair. Madeline Hunter, 1989

Only through education does one come to be dissatisfied with his own knowledge, and only through teaching others does one come to realize the uncomfortable inadequacy of his knowledge. Being dissatisfied with his own knowledge, one then realizes that the trouble lies with himself, and realizing the uncomfortable inadequacy of his knowledge one then feels stimulated to improve himself. Therefore, it is said, "the processes of teaching and learning stimulate one another." Confucius, circa 500 BCE

I wake up every morning determined both to change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day a little difficult. E. B. White

That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way. Doris Lessing

Pick Battles big enough to matter, small enough to win Jonathon Kozol


What Teacher Education Programs forget to tell their candidates:
•A teacher cannot be all things to all people
•You are not a "bad person" if you are not always able to meet all the needs of all your students
•You are a powerful and compelling figure in the lives of your students
•In recalling their school years, students mostly remember their teachers, and not the courses they took
•You need to find a "critical friend" whom you can trust to serve as a sounding board
•At times students can be very cruel, difficult, and mean-spirited
•It is a mistake to personalize a student's unacceptable behavior
•Teachers love their students as their parents love them--but in a different way and for a different reason
•Few people will ever appreciate the amount of time and effort teachers give to their teaching
•By choosing to be a teacher, you have entered an emotionally dangerous profession
•You are both a role model and change agent
•You need to pay attention to both your physical and emotional well-being
•Teaching is not like inducing a chemical reaction, but more like creating a painting, or planting a garden, or writing a friendly letter.
•Teaching is a complicated business because students are such unexpected blends of character, personality, and background
•Most of the significant advances in civilization have been the result of the work of teachers
•Teaching is an act of faith in the promise of the future
•Teaching is a way of life
James Marran, Social Studies Dept. Chair
New Trier High School, Winnetka, Ill.


By Postman & Weingartner

1. Declare a five-year moratorium on the use of all textbooks
2. Have “English” teachers “teach” Math, Math teachers English, Social Studies teachers science, Science teachers Art, and so on.

3. Transfer all elementary teachers to high school and vice versa.
4. Require every teacher who thinks he knows his “subject” well to write a book on it.
5. Dissolve all “subjects”, “courses”, and “course requirements”.
6. Limit each teacher to three declarative sentences per class, and 15 interrogatives.

7. Prohibit teachers from asking any questions they already know the answers to.
8. Declare a moratorium on all tests and grades.
9. Require all teachers to undergo some form of psychotherapy as part of their in-service training
10. Classify teachers according to their ability and make the lists public.
11. Require all teachers to take a test prepared by students on what the students know.
12. Make every class an elective and withhold a teacher's monthly check if his students do not show any interest in going to next month's classes.
 13. Require every teacher to take a one-year leave of absence every fourth year to work in some other “field” other than education.
14. Require each teacher to provide some sort of evidence that he or she has had a loving relationship with at least one other human being.
15. Require that all the graffiti accumulated in the school toilets be reproduced on large paper and be hung in the school hals.

16. There should be a general prohibitiion against the following owrds and phrases: syllabus, ciovering ground,  I.Q., makeup test, disadvantaged, gifted, accelerated, enhancement., course, grade, score, human nature, dumb, college material and administrative necessity.

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