"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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"A painting is never finished - it simply stops in interesting places." Paul Gardner Darrow, Painter (1921- )

This is at least equally true of learning.  We never cease to learn.  We never even stop.  As Salvador Dali (1904-1989) put it so well: "While we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another one."  Thus, we continue to learn while we're sleeping, our minds quietly turning over the contents of our brains, perhaps making sense of things previously poorly understood?

"When I was 4 years old
they tried to test my IQ.
they showed me a picture
of three oranges and a pear
they said,
which one is different?
it does not belong
they taught me different is wrong." Ani DiFranco (1994)

Prejudice is so subtle and so easily ingrained, especially in young minds.  The prejudice against difference (difference of creed, race, color, intellectual or physical ability--difference of whatever kind) is largely cultural.  Perhaps it is to some extent instinctive, even genetic.  But this doesn't make it right.  Teachers should constantly examine their interactions with the children in their care to ensure that they do not intentionally or unintentionally practice prejudice of any kind, whether in thought, word, or deed.

"Nurture your mind with great thoughts." Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881)

All teachers and students must engage in productive learning tasks in order to stimulate their minds.

"It takes a lot of preparation to teach just a little."Eleanor L. Doan (1918- )

The best teachers work very hard, day after day, preparing to teach. They design meticulous lesson plans and spend much time on tedious tasks just to provide their students with a quality learning experience. Teaching, done well, is a noble profession which deserves the highest recognition from society as a whole.

"Good tools do not make a good teacher, but a good teacher makes good use of tools." Eleanor Doan (1918- )

The best tools in the world will not make a poor teacher a good teacher.  An example of this is when a teacher uses videotapes.  Used properly, videos can help students better understand certain concepts that need to be learned.  As the proverb goes: "I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand".  However, if used improperly, a video just becomes something which wastes time in a class.  While videos certainly are not the only example of this, we have all seen what happens when video is used inappropriately.  So, as good teachers, we must guard against using our tools in an improper manner.

"Teaching is the only major occupation of man (and woman) for which we have not yet developed tools that make an average person capable of competence and performance. In teaching we rely on the 'naturals,' the ones who somehow know how to teach." Peter Drucker (1909- )

This quote echoes that of Eleanor Doan, who said: "Good tools do not make a good teacher, but a good teacher makes good use of tools." (Eleanor Doan (1918- ). Teacher training, involving the study of teaching methodologies and the philosophies of outstanding educationists, along with guided practice in the classroom, can only confirm and inform already gifted capabilities.  Fortunately, applicants for the teaching profession are self-sorting towards "competence and performance."  The pay for teachers is average at best; the work is hard and in many ways very demanding.  Few college-bound students looking for an easy life will look to K-12 teaching as a career.  For the most part, therefore, those who choose to be trained as teachers usually have a "natural" ability to teach, as Drucker observes.  Teacher training informs this "natural" ability, providing professional knowledge, guided professional experience, and an understanding of individual learning needs.  Thus are those who "somehow know how to teach" prepared to do their life's work.

"You cannot be lonely if you like the person you're alone with." Wayne Dyer

Loneliness, especially in teens, is a serious problem in our society.  Most teen violence can be attributed to it in one way or another; children looking for acceptance in gangs, looking to blame their loneliness on others.  As teachers, we have the opportunity to help children gain the self-confidence and self-esteem that will help them believe in and like themselves, and thus more successfully survive the turbulent teen years.

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Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant;
  they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
  for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble;
  it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
  many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
  for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
  But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;  &nbspyou have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be,
  and whatever your labors and aspirations,
  in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
  Be careful. Strive to be happy. from the works of Max Ehrmann (1872-1945)

Origins of Desiderata: Desiderata was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927. According to an apochryphal story, it was apparently found when the old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore, USA was torn down and subsequently translated from Latin into English by Max Ehrmann in 1927. This is not true. For precise information about how this confusion came about, read the pages prepared by Volkert Braren

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

It's ironic that someone we "revere" as especially knowledgeable should rate knowledge as inferior to imagination. Yet, if you think about it, it makes complete sense. Knowledge is only useful if we have the imagination to apply it in and to our lives.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Einstein, like many brilliant and not so brilliant people, did not enjoy school. This may well be because the teaching paradigm he experienced was one of rote learning, still typical in some classrooms today. Teachers are responsible for engaging students in exciting learning experiences. This is not easy. Some students are less inclined than others towards learning at any particular time. So many circumstances, so many variables, factor into the learning experience. Nonetheless, the conscientious teacher must strive day after day to engage the students in learning in ways that will most effectively "awaken joy in creativity and knowledge" as Einstein recommends.

"I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it." Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. general and 34th president (1890-1969)

Teachers, the same as parents and community leaders, must teach children how to live together in peace. Only thus will those students grow up to promote peace within their communities.

"The greatest wrong, the greatest treason, Is to do the right thing for the wrong reason." T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). Words spoken by the character Thomas à Becket, in the play Murder in the Cathedral

This thought has myriad applications, but the one that comes immediately to my mind is that we shouldn't be introducing technology into the curriculum just because it's the thing to do, or because everyone is doing it, or because it will make me, or my department, or my school, or my district look good. We should be introducing technology because, and only because, it will help me be a more effective teacher and my students more effective learners.

"Act as though it were impossible to fail." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Attitude is everything. As teachers we are leaders and guides. An important part of our job is to instill confidence in our students, build them up, help them grow. We can only do this if we have confidence in ourselves. A defeatist outlook does no one any good. A positive attitude, on the other hand, promotes our dreams and brings them to fruition. A positive attitude also promotes the hopes and dreams of our charges because belief in oneself and in one's capabilities is contagious and spreads quickly to those around us. Our students will benefit greatly from having been touched by a teacher for whom every challenge is within reach.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Emerson is warning us of the danger of getting too stuck in our own ways.  While it may be convenient to teach only one way of doing some specific thing, we should be careful to tell our students that it's not the only way to go.  Often, the best pedagogy will be to allow them the freedom to find (discover) creative solutions for themselves.  There is always more than one way to approach a problem.  It doesnít matter how a child arrives at an answer, as long as it's right, as long as it works.  We need to encourage our students to seek out as many processes (problem solutions) as possible, and let them decide which is best; their creativity might surprise you.

"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

This is truly the secret to our profession.  If we love what we are doing and reach our students in every way we can, we are helping them.  Not only are we helping them to learn, but also we are helping them to love learning.  When we help them advance in knowledge, we increase the likelihood that they will feel good about themselves.  Maybe our students will recognize how much we enjoy our work and learn from us how good it is to help others.  Now, beyond the occasional "Thank you" or the bright eye that so often accompanies the final understanding of a concept, a good teacher gains great satisfaction from instilling virtues in students that last far beyond the classroom.  We teach our students to respect each other, to think for themselves, and in all ways to be the kind of people we want our world to be populated with.  Is there any better way to help ourselves?

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Emerson's words speak for themselves and remind us that the opportunity to "succeed" is within everyone's grasp.

"Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Teachers must teach their students the power of words as expressions of thoughts, thus empowering them to act, not on impulse but on all due thoughtful consideration.

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Passion inspires teaching as well as learning.

"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Failure is the key to success, for failure teaches us both what to avoid and what to do right the next time around.

"The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

When teachers respect each and every one of their students, the learning environment is significantly enriched. Every student deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to behavior. The most difficult students may be more demanding of the teacherís time and energy, but this is not the fault of the student who comes to school with a weight of emotional baggage brought from home. Respecting and helping difficult students is the mark of a quality, loving teacher.

"It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is." Desiderius Erasmus (1466?-1536)

A good teacher gets to know each student well and helps all students to accept who they are. The secret to great teaching is thus to recognize individual student personalities, varying the instructional experience to allow for individualized learning.

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"The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth." Harry Emerson Fosdick, preacher and author (1878-1969)

Let us then be tolerant of all creeds, for none has all the answers.

"If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it away from him. An investment of knowledge always pays the best interest." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Knowledge is power. The time and effort invested in learning reaps a lifelong reward.

"We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insolvable problems." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

No matter how big a problem seems, we can always turn it around and make it an opportunity to either learn something new, make ourselves a better person, or help out a fellow human being. How many times have we thrown up our hands and believed a problem to be insurmountable? It would do us good to view problems, not as obstacles, but as opportunities that we can use to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. We should try to remember this when tempted to throw in the towel, whether we're dealing with students, parents, administrators--even ourselves.

This quote reminds us, too, of what a motivational speaker once said about his alarm clock. When the alarm goes off in the morning you can have one of two attitudes about it. You can say "Oh no" and hit the snooze bar before rolling over, or you can think of that alarm clock as the "opportunity clock," get up, and seize whatever opportunities are presented to you that day.

"Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me." Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Poetry captures a universe of experience, from the most beautiful to the most horrendously atrocious. As Freud recognized, the reason why has nothing to do with places or events themselves, but with how each of those affect our feelings. How students feel about something is at least as important as their understanding of it, if not more so. If the feeling is there, the rest will follow naturally. This is why the best teachers create an environment in which their students can experience what it is they are to learn. Without that feeling, anything they learn will be forgotten like chaff blowing in the wind.

"All the child is ever to be and become lies in the child, and can be attained only through development from within outward. The purpose of teaching and instruction is to bring ever more out of a person rather than to put ever more and more in." Friedrich W. Froebel (1782-1852)

If teachers can understand their studentsí cognitive abilities, they will be much more likely to draw out each student's cognitive talents. This is easier said than done, for it takes time to discover a child's potentialities. But if a teacher is open to discovering those potentialities, they are much more likely to be revealed, nourished, and allowed to blossom like plants fed by the warming rays of sunshine.

"We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common.  It has to be everybody or nobody." Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

Diversity education is not an option.  People of all races and abilities must be given an equal opportunity to acquire the intellectual skills required for quality living in a modern world.  People already privileged to enjoy this opportunity must, for their own sake as fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth, become agitators for making universal what is currently a distinction for the relative few.

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© Bernard Poole, Donna Hendry, Rebecca Randall, Yvonne Singer, 1996-2005, All rights reserved / poole@pitt.edu, ysinger@worldnet.att.net / (814) 269-2923 / Revised February 6, 2005