"Nurture your mind with great thoughts."

Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881)

Motivational Quotations for Teachers


Index to last name of authors of quotations

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"There is no such thing as a 'self-made' man. We are made up of thousands of others.  Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts."  George Matthew Adams (1878-1962)

Teachers touch the future.........

"True teaching is always an epiphany: sometimes a clap of thunder ...  but often only a whisper, easily missed."  Al-Moubacchir, Seljuk manuscript, Turkey, thirteenth century

We teachers should often remind ourselves of the significance of our role in our students' lives.  Not a day passes where we do not witness some subtle or not so subtle--yet always significant--epiphany in their minds.  We won't always be aware of our influence in this regard; often we will be unwitting witnesses to it and must simply take it on faith.  But, for sure, we are witnesses to these epiphanies because we are there at our students' side, where we have prepared and maintained a fertile environment where learning can most felicitously occur.

"The best vitamin for making friends? B-1"  Anon

A nice complement to this catchy quote would be: "If you would be loved be lovable." Also anon.

"Don't sweat the small stuff: It's all small stuff!"  Anon

During the learning process, teachers should often overlook or work around essentially non-significant issues. For example, if students are having a bad day learning a mathematical concept such as long division, they should not be penalized. Perhaps they will more easily grasp this concept the next day or the next week. Typically we teachers want to push our students through a curriculum like sausages in a sausage machine. This would be all well and good if all of our students were equally ready at the same time for whatever it is that we want them to learn. This is clearly an absurdity!

"Courage is the power to let go of the familiar."  Anon

Who cannot empathize with this powerful idea?  Teaching is in the throes of transition. Many are putting off the "awful day" when they will be required to change the way they do education.  Why?  Because it takes courage to let go of the familiar.  Human nature being what it is, we need a compelling reason and some significant incentives to embrace systemic change.  In the best school districts, teachers are given the support that meets this need.  The beneficiaries are the students.  Teachers who work in school districts where such enlightened leadership is lacking have to find that compelling reason within themselves, whether or not significant incentives are forthcoming.  Many teachers have accepted the challenge. Courageously, and often against the grain of the educational ethos of which they are a part, they let go of the familiar and remain open to the notion of newness, discovery, and lifelong learning.  Their students are fortunate indeed.

"The most important decision you make today will not affect you until tomorrow." Anon

A corollary to this would be Louis Pasteur's words that "Fortune favors the prepared mind."

"All men naturally desire to know"  Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.)

The obvious truth of Aristotle's words is often lost when we work with children in our classrooms. We forget to take advantage of their natural desire to find things out. Instead we design lessons with the expressed or implied goal of force-feeding them with knowledge.  Learning is as natural as breathing and children have had lots of experience with the business of learning before they even enter school.  We could take a tip from Maria Montessori in this regard. No matter what the age group, we should "prepare the environment" so that our students can access and assimilate knowledge in the most natural way possible.  Only then will they learn the most and learn the best.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.  We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.)

Much that we do in life, whether it be good, bad, or indifferent, we do out of habit. The good news is that habits are formed. Children are not born readily accustomed to behaving in one way or another. Parents and teachers are more likely to inculcate what they consider to be appropriate behaviors in children if they expect those behaviors consistently.  Consistency is what creates habit. The pursuit of excellence can be a habit, too, which means it can be taught. Children discover how to maintain a level of excellence once they have achieved it often enough. This is why it is so important for teachers to keep the bar up, to not lower their expectations of their students. Once students get used to doing excellent work, they will more readily take pride in it and reproduce it. They will start to internalize their teachers' expectations, seeking and finding excellence in and for themselves.

"Those who educate children well are more to be honored than those who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well." Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.)

And good parents are the most important teachers of all.

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"I tell my students they should start teaching because they'll learn more from their students than from their teacher." Julius Baker, flautist and teacher

When we acquire new knowledge it rarely sticks well.  We might learn it for a test, and we might even recall it for the test.  But as all good teachers know, knowledge is not really acquired until it's internalized and made our own.  When we are forced to explain or defend an idea or stance, it not only fills the other person in, it also forces us to clarify our own knowledge at the same time.   When we have to explain something we think we understand, it makes us organize our thoughts.  We may well look at things from a new perspective.  This is when we begin to truly understand.   In the classroom, students will ask us questions that we ourselves had never thought of.  The benefit of this dialog is that we clarify our store of knowledge.  A good teacher will take this one step further.  Since teaching is a great way to learn, we should have our students interacting intellectually with each other, teaching each other in pursuit of educational goals.

"Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934)

Teachers teach by who they are, rather more than by what they say.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." Melody Beattie

When appreciation enters the classroom, the learning process is greatly enhanced. This is easy to understand. When students are appreciated it rocks their world! They have enough put downs in their daily lives from parents and peers. It really makes a difference when they are praised and recognized--when we make them feel that we're grateful just for who they are!

"A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs--jolted by every pebble in the road." Henry Ward Beecher, preacher and writer (1813-1887)

A sense of humor is a priceless commodity, oiling the wheels of social intercourse and smoothing the pathway through life.  "Smile, and the world smiles with you", as they say.  Or, as I like to say to my teachers, "Be happy, for the kids' sake".

"The most important civil liberties issue facing us today is getting citizens of all races, classes, and creeds connected to the Internet. Our fight for free speech and privacy rights will remain a hollow victory if cyberspace is just a bunch of white folks." Ann Beeson, ACLU (in The CPSR Newsletter, Fall 1996, vol. 14, no. 3)

All students and teachers have rights. This is especially true when it comes to online learning. Socially disadvantaged groups are less likely to have easy access to technology. This is especially true of distance learning, for example. Just because teachers and students do not interact face-to-face, they should not make assumptions regarding racial, gender, religious, and disability issues. In this type of environment, teachers must recognize that some students have more restricted access to information resources and online learning tools than others in the class and should plan accordingly to ensure that ALL the students can be equally engaged in learning.

"Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal." Jeneane Behme

Many times, in teaching, we get bogged down with the obstacles that confront us. We have too many clerical chores to do, too many kids in our class, too many low achievers, too many parents to deal with, too many meetings to attend. The list goes on and on. It's easy to lose sight of goals when everyday concerns crowd them out. Our goals in education are to ensure learning for our students and to help them grow as wholesome, mature individuals. If these goals drive our decisions about the everyday things, obstacles that we encounter along the way will take care of themselves. The obstacles don't go away, but they become easier to deal with when we focus our perspective by keeping our eye on the bigger picture.

"Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life." Jesse Lee Bennett

Books are indeed essential in the learning environment as a traditional and accessible source of information. Today, however, digital technology is fast becoming an essential companion to books as a resource for learning. All children will need access to these computer-based navigation tools, too.

"Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought." Henri Bergson (1859-1941)

With all the hoop-la surrounding computers and education, many administrators and teachers have leapt on the bandwagon without a lot of thought. The result has been a somewhat startling waste of time and money over the past 20 years (perhaps billions of dollars poured down the education-funding drain). Systems have been thrown into classrooms without adequate teacher training, without adequate technical support, without adequate planning, without, in a word, thought. The motivation has been noble. All the evidence indicates that well-integrated tools improve the quality of teaching and learning. As Eleanor Doan (1842-1929) so neatly put it: "Good tools do not make a good teacher, but a good teacher makes good use of tools." All it needs is for the men and women of action to strictly apply thought to the process of technology-integrated teaching and learning. The end result of such thoughtful action has already been clearly demonstrated in the best school systems around the globe.

"Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich." Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)

Good teachers dedicate their lives to giving. Their reward, often unsung, is lodged in the minds and hearts of the children whose futures they have touched. The sure knowledge of this brings a joy which surpasses in richness any other mere monetary reward.

"No man can be called friendless when he has God and the companionship of good books." Elizabeth Barret Browning, poet (1806-1861)

If education (formal or otherwise) means anything at all, it means preparing children for a lifetime of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual fulfillment.  The learning never stops when it's been started right.  All of life's experiences are opportunities for learning.  Good teachers prepare the children for lifelong learning by allowing them to learn actively through engagement in the subject matter that is prescribed in the curriculum.  The well-integrated computer facilitates this "style" of learning (whether at home or in school) by allowing the children to become immersed interactively in whatever is to be learned.  The involvement of the computer in this way will become more extensive over time as schools discover the best methodologies and tools designed to take advantage of the impressive resources that are, and will be, increasingly available on-line.


Good books, too, as Elizabeth Barret Browning observes, engage the reader in physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual fulfillment by feeding dreams and helping make them reality.  Good books touch our sensibilities, arousing deep feelings which enrich our sensitivities.  Good books are good companions, helping us while away our precious time in physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually fulfilling ways.  I say "physical" because good books help us relax, help us step away from the stress and strain of careworn days.  Good books are a tonic for mind, body, and soul.


Children need to be introduced to a wide selection of good books.  Good parents do this and the children of such parents are blessed indeed, for those children will never be "friendless" as long as they love, and have access to, good literature.


Elizabeth Barret Browning is right when she says that God, too, comes into the "good life" mix--"God" as in an awareness that there is more to life than mere existence.  No matter what our beliefs, we all of us recognize the need to love and be loved.  Love of others is a God-like act; it is also its own reward.  Teaching is an act of love, which is why good teachers never lack for friends.


"...God and the companionship of good books."  I think so.

"An innocent heart is a brittle thing, and one false vow can break it." Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1805-1873)

Although this appears to have more to do with matters of the heart than with teaching, it reminds us that the students we deal with are real people with feelings and emotions. Young children especially come to us, for the most part, in innocence and with open hearts. We can do much to nurture their trust and bolster their confidence. But if we aren't careful, we can also do much to destroy their beautiful self esteem and make them feel less than they truly are. Teachers at all levels of education should be careful in their words and deeds lest they offend and break tender hearts.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing." Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

How often, when you've seen something that made your blood boil because it seemed so wrong, have you sat back and done nothing, because you were too busy, too tired, or thought it was none of your business?  As teachers, we have one of the greatest opportunities toward good.  We teach not only by telling, but by example.  If our students see us taking pains to work with them to help them learn, or if they see us working in the community, they begin to understand the reciprocity of true goodness, and they learn the most important lesson of all: that all things good require work. 

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"The key to successfully transforming education lies in transforming ourselves." Renate and Geoffrey Caine in Education On the Edge of Possibility (ASCD, 1997)

Such a powerful idea! As long as those involved in the enterprise of education--students, parents, teachers, administrators and governing bodies in general--remain locked into traditional modes of thinking about the way education is done, all the new-fangled systems and ideas in the world won't make a bit of difference.

"If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?" Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936)

Chesterton (referred to as GKC by his friends) reminds us of our rich heritage and stellar potential as human beings. Teachers should attend to these words. Each and every child in our care has genius within. This genius frequently needs our professional insight for its recognition and our nurturing hand that it might blossom and grow.

"Natural ability without education has more often attained to glory and virtue than education without natural ability."  Cicero -- statesman, orator, writer (106-43 B.C)

Most teachers are inclined towards the teaching profession because they have a special gift for working with children.  They believe they are born to be teachers.  A few teachers choose the profession because it's "just a job".  Very few teachers choose the profession because of the pay.  Those who choose the profession for reasons such as these generally give up early in their careers.  No amount of education can make up for such inappropriate motivation.  Formal training is important, of course, in teacher preparation.  Indeed, it is a necessary pre-requisite to entering the profession.  But it is not sufficient.  When it comes down to it, teaching is "heart" work and those that succeed have a surfeit of love which fires the natural talents and abilities that they bring to the classroom where they are thus more likely to achieve the glory and virtue of which Cicero speaks.

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." Samuel Langhorne Clemens, alias Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Traditional schooling is desperately in need of an overhaul. Right now, as Clemens quipped long ago, schools put many (perhaps most) students off learning, instead of turning them on. We have to change the way we think about education, loose the reins of control, and liberate the students to discover learning for themselves. Sounds wishy-washy? It has to be better than progressively killing the spark of enthusiasm for learning which our youngsters, initially at least, bring to the process we call school.

"If it's happening somewhere, why isn't it happening everywhere?" President Bill Clinton, July 17, 1997

This is excerpted from the President's address at the NAACP conference in Pittsburgh, PA, on the subject of standards in schools. There will always be centers of recognized educational excellence. These centers can be models for the majority of school districts where excellence, while attainable, is elusive and judged by a standard based on lower criteria.

"Self esteem comes from successfully overcoming obstacles, not from having them removed for you."  Joyce Clohessy

This quote has myriad applications.  In the context of schools and schooling, for the student it re-emphasizes the importance of discovery learning and of a Constructivist philosophy of education.  For the teacher, it underscores the importance of "buying in" to renewal and reform.  Many school districts have learned to their cost that technology infusion, for example, does not, per se, bring teachers into the instructional technology fold.  Where, however, teachers have been supported with appropriate time, money, and conditions, they have willingly worked to adapt their methodologies, overcoming obstacles, and, consequently, growing in self esteem.

"Advice is like snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into, the mind."  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet and philosopher (1772-1834)

Coleridge's words remind us that children respond best to the milk of loving kindness.

"Imagine a school with children who can read or write, but with teachers who cannot, and you have a metaphor of the Information Age in which we live." Peter Cochrane

Since technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, students may often know more about the latest technology than their teachers. As we get older it becomes more difficult for us to adapt to change. But we teachers must learn all we can about the latest learning technologies. Our students should not be denied access to learning tools simply because of our ignorance or resistance to change.

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Donna Hendry, Bernard Poole, Rebecca Randall, Yvonne Singer, 1996-2006, All rights reserved / poole@pitt.edu, ysinger@worldnet.att.net / (814) 269-2923 / Revised Friday June 02, 2006