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25 Compelling Quotes By and For Teachers

To borrow a classic line, nobody ever went broke overestimating the hypocrisy of the American people. Our national pastime isn’t baseball, it’s paying lip service to the importance of teaching while simultaneously making teachers’ jobs as difficult and un-lucrative as possible. It’s always good to be reminded of the importance of education, but with this presidential election cycle, we’re guessing you teachers (and everyone else) have heard enough pandering and patronizing to last you quite a while. Here are some of the most compelling quotes about teachers, in their own words.

  1. “A man should first direct himself in the way he should go. Only then should he instruct others.” -Buddha:

    About two and a half millennia ago, the spiritual teacher Siddhartha Gautama Buddha laid out this education plan.

  2. “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” – Mark van Doren:

    The legendary Columbia professor pretty much summed up the theory of inductive teaching with this line. Ironically, his son’s discovery was that cheating is even easier than inductive learning.

  3. “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.” “The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” – Helen Keller:

    The famously blind and deaf educator may not have been speaking specifically about educators, but there could be no better illustration of a job many consider humble yet directly influences the future leaders of the world.

  4. “A teacher affects eternity; no one can tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams:

    That was exactly our point, Henry.

  5. “You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and an A-minus feel like a slap in the face.” – Taylor Mali:

    If you’ve never heard of this slam poet-teacher, drop what you’re doing right now and go watch this on YouTube. Mali will remind you why you became a teacher in the first place.

  6. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Derek Bok:

    As a law professor and then president of Harvard, Bok probably heard people drop the word “expensive” once or twice while discussing tuition. But he makes a fantastic point about seeing education not just as a cash outlay but an investment.

  7. “Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” – Jacques Barzun:

    The author of the iconic Teacher in America and 40 other books was a well-known philosopher of education. And having been a teacher himself for 30 years, he learned firsthand how taken for granted members of the profession can be.

  8. “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” – Mahatma Gandhi:

    Despite claims that he had “nothing new to teach the world,” even before his death and certainly since people interested in non-violent civil disobedience have learned from Gandhi’s example. And he knew what many supporters of an ideology have known: indoctrination, for good or bad, is most effective with the young.

  9. “There’s no word in the language I revere more than ‘teacher.’ My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I’ve honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher.” – Pat Conroy:

    The Prince of Tides author’s teaching career was brief, but it clearly made enough of an impact on him to prompt him to cast the profession in such a moving light.

  10. “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.” – Aristotle:

    Take it from the man who taught Alexander the Great and influenced cultures millennia after his own: teaching is a worthy undertaking.

  11. “If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.” – Donald D. Quinn:

    Of course, the doctor or lawyer would also have to forgo two-thirds of his paycheck, but you get the idea.

  12. “Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.” – Moses:

    Think teaching a class is hard? Try teaching an entire nation singlehandedly. We’re guessing you’d probably start praying, too.

  13. “Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” – Josef Albers:

    This German-American painter did arguably as much for arts education in the United States as anyone in the 20th century, and with a philosophy like this it’s easy to see how.

  14. “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” – Albert Einstein:

    Before he was a Nobel Prize winner, the famous physicist was a college professor. He clearly was a much better teacher than the ones he had had as a child – one told him plainly he would never amount to anything.

  15. “I touch the future. I teach.” – Christa McAuliffe:

    McAuliffe is remembered as the representative of the Teacher in Space Project on the ill-fated Challenger mission. Even as a part of the space program, she maintained teaching was the real future.

  16. “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” – Maria Montessori:

    It may very well be the greatest sign of success, but this famous educator probably also exactly described here every teacher’s secret daydream.

  17. “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a boy.” – Forest Witcraft:

    Dr. Witcraft was a Boy Scout administrator (hence the “boy” reference), but he was also a teacher, and the sentiment applies to teachers of students of both sexes.

  18. “A very wise old teacher once said: ‘I consider a day’s teaching wasted if we do not all have one hearty laugh.’ He meant that when people laugh together, they cease to be young and old, master and pupils; They become a single group of human beings enjoying its existence.” – Gilbert Highet:

    The best teachers are always the ones you can have a laugh with, who feel more like peers than authority figures.

  19. “It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.” – Jacob Bronowski:

    No doubt your students are not short on irreverence for their studies, but according to this math professor, a certain amount of skepticism and aloofness is just what the doctor ordered.

  20. “Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.” – Confucius:

    Many have commented on the fact that teachers start students on a path, but they were merely paraphrasing this pillar of ancient wisdom.

  21. “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” – George Washington Carver:

    The legendary educator and inventor knew of which he spoke: it is believed he was born into slavery.

  22. “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” – Robert Frost:

    History remembers this beloved poet for his literary work, but he spent time as an “awakener” of young minds. We’re betting he made quite the good English teacher.

  23. “What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation” – Marcus Tullius Cicero:

    The Roman philosopher had many students and adherents, and though he was a jack of all trades he knew their instruction was his most significant accomplishment.

  24. “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.” – Colleen Wilcox:

    You have to have that belief that no matter how stacked against you the odds, your consistent devotion to your students day in and day out is getting through and making a difference.

  25. “The most important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn.” – John Lubbock:

    This late 19th-century academic points out that instead of “No Child Left Behind,” we might consider calling it “No Child Left Uninspired.”

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