Saturday, April 1, 2023

The Most Dangerous Phrases in Education

This piece is written by a classroom teacher.

I’m writing this to provide some balance. I know it probably won’t be well received by all…or most…or quite possibly anyone, but I believe it is important to write. There are a few phrases I repeatedly see on Twitter that cause me to cringe, mostly because they are presented without any context. While these sayings frequently produce ‘mic-drop’ comments, they can be quite dangerous for novice teachers. Seeing someone exclaim these phrases on Twitter can create an unrealistic idea of what a classroom should look and sound like.

So, here goes, in no particular order…the “most dangerous” phrases in education:

“The most dangerous phrase in education is ‘we’ve always done it this way.’”

Really? I guess I understand the sentiment. If something doesn’t work, continuing to do it because it’s always been done a certain way can be quite dangerous. But, and here’s where the balance comes in, it is a bit of an overgeneralization. Sometimes things are done continually because they work. It makes sense to continue with something in the classroom/school that works. Don’t change just to say you’ve changed. Perhaps the most dangerous phrase should be “we must change.”

“Learning should be loud” or “Your classroom should be noisy!”

Again, I believe the thought here is students should be up and about, hands-on, discussing, etc. This, of course, can be true of learning. For balance, though, please understand learning can occur in the quiet classroom; either the teacher talking or students reading and left alone a bit with their thoughts and ideas. Learning does not have to be loud or noisy…at all.

“The person doing the talking is doing the learning.”

This phrase is very similar to the previous, but specifically insinuates that to learn, one must be talking. Not true. Can talking communicate understanding? Yes, but it certainly isn’t required. Think about it this way, if it were true one has to talk to learn, then we’re all wasting our time on twitter, watching youtube, reading anything, or any other activity where we’re not talking. Obviously, we are able learn doing any and all of those activities. Like the other quotes mentioned, proper balance and context are needed to properly understand this phrase…and often it’s provided without either.

“If you’re talking for more than 10 minutes, they aren’t listening anymore.”

I’ve written specifically about this statement here. This is very dangerous. Without context, this erroneous 10 minute limitation applies to elementary to university aged students, in all subjects, without consideration of ability. Teachers, please do not feel the pressure to limit your talking to your students—especially not to 10 minutes. Explain, clarify, and reiterate whenever necessary for as long as it takes. You are the expert in the classroom and should provide the information as need be.

Now, I can already hear people saying “well, of course these statements require some context. That’s implied.” I would disagree. It is not obvious to all. I have heard of teachers being observed by administrators with stopwatches, recording their ‘talk time.’ These popular and dangerous statements are taken to heart. They are taken at face value by some. I would encourage all to provide context, whether it be a blog post or follow up tweets, to clarify and expound on these and other popular phrases.

What other phrases do you frequently see/hear that, out of context, are dangerous for the classroom?

This piece first ran here at the author’s blog, The Effortful Educator.

Blake Harvard
Blake Harvard is an AP Psychology teacher in Alabama. He is passionate about incorporating findings from cognitive psychology in the classroom to improve instruction and learning. You can find him on twitter @effortfuleduktr



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent Posts