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The Worst Advice from Teachers—and What You Should Do Instead

Comic book-style illustration of one person whispering into the ear of another person.

Sometimes, teachers get bad advice from their colleagues. Here's how you can tune it out and turn it into something positive.

Teachers are barraged with advice from teachers, administrators, and even laypeople. Some of it is very good advice—but some of it is absolutely dreadful. Here's some of the worst advice teachers traditionally receive—and how you can flip it from a negative to a positive.

1. "Don't smile until December."

This is the worst piece of advice from teachers I've heard in all my talks with teachers across the country. Not smiling for more than four months in a classroom would be devastating for a teacher and their students. Kids need smiles and laughter to thrive, and most teachers understand that. Humor and levity can help build relationships, ease stress, and create a classroom that's truly a community.

Further Reading: Teacher Advice: Learn How to Say No

Not smiling should never be mistaken for strong classroom management, which is rooted in clearly communicating expectations and building partnerships with students. So smile away, and keep smiling all the way through June!

2. "Don't share any personal stories with your students."

Sharing personal stories helps humanize teachers, and it can help students understand problems and concepts. My math teacher colleague shares stories about training for a marathon to help explain math. My English teacher friend shares stories about her three teenage boys with her high school students, who are often experiencing the same issues.

Stories about how you've overcome adversity and obstacles can inspire your students, too. When I tell my students how it took me more than seven years to finish college because I worked and went to school part-time, it helps them see that there are many paths to a degree.

"We aren't robots," my colleague Kelly says. "Students need those connections, and so do we."

You probably shouldn't tell your students about your wild weekend, but sharing appropriate stories can build solidarity in your classroom.

3. "Get out while you can."

Every school has that one disgruntled teacher who's compelled to warn new teachers to get out while they can. Teaching is a difficult and often underappreciated profession. Low pay, long hours, and endless initiatives are a reality of the profession.

But teaching, as good teachers know, also has many rewards. Some teachers see these rewards right away, like when a student masters a difficult concept or recognizes how far they've come in their learning. Other rewards come later, through emails or Facebook posts from former students.

My friend Paoli has the perfect counter for this rotten piece of advice. "If you can imagine yourself being happy at any other profession, check that out first," he says. "But if you only see yourself as a teacher, welcome!"

4. "Call out your students to catch them off guard."

My colleague Macy, who was once one of my students, was advised during a practice lesson in his early college years that he should call out students to catch them off guard. But Macy quickly realized that what would have really helped him were strategies to make students feel included and comfortable sharing their views—not advice on setting traps for students, which could embarrass or humiliate them.

Now, Macy splits students into small groups before opening the discussion with the entire class. This way, students feel less pressure, and it ensures that their voices are heard when the classroom discussion resumes.

5. "These kids can't …"

During my second year of teaching, my state instituted new standards requiring every student to learn the same skills and read the same books. My students would now read Hamlet in its original form—not the comic book version they'd been reading.

I had a lot of teachers tell me that my kids couldn't understand Hamlet. Of course, they could—and they did. They needed different instruction and scaffolding to do it, but my students genuinely enjoyed the play as much as their peers did.

Teachers, especially those who teach in rural or low-income urban schools, often get told what their kids can't do. But a former student, who is now a teacher, said, "Don't listen to that noise. My students can do anything!"

6. "Don't let your students see you make a mistake."

Teachers have heard this advice for years, which cautions them to hide their mistakes and act cool and together at all times. This push for perfection is an absurd goal, and it will only stress you out. Everyone makes mistakes—it's how you handle those mistakes that matters.

Teachers who acknowledge their occasional mistakes are more real to their students. And students can learn a great deal about the way teachers acknowledge and rectify their mistakes.

7. "Let me tell you all about that student."

Teachers will frequently come to you with warnings about some of their former students. Sometimes, that information can be helpful—teachers can provide insight into a former student's background, learning style, and any issues they might have had with the student. It's essential, though, that you get to know your student on your terms and build a relationship that helps that student succeed.

Most teachers know that students respond differently to different teachers, and students grow and change from year to year. Listen and take what you need from conversations with students' former teachers, but keep an open mind and build your own bond with your students.

Further Reading: How to Respond to the 6 Biggest Misconceptions About Teaching

As a teacher, you'll be on the receiving end of endless advice. Weigh that advice carefully, especially when it's negative. It might just be best to listen to your head and your heart and decide for yourself what's best for you and your situation.