Skip to Content

20 of the Best and Worst Teaching Quotes

20 of the Best and Worst Teaching Quotes


Teaching is a passion-driven profession, and many people have much to say about it. Teaching quotes have emerged as philosophies that some teachers live by within the vast landscape of thoughts and opinions on our profession. From the profound to the obnoxious, from the inspiring to the clueless, these quotes encapsulate the essence of teaching, revealing its triumphs and pitfalls or watering it down to something adorable to print on a tote bag.

This article delves into the dual facets of teaching quotes – the best and the worst. Some quotes have transcended time, resonating with generations of learners and educators alike, while others miss the mark, and like a bad meme, they just won’t seem to go away.

Not all teaching quotes are created equal. Pearls of wisdom often contain clichés and obnoxious commentaries designed to make teachers seem like martyrs and sidestep their rights as workers and human beings.

As we navigate through these well-known teaching quotes, we will confront the quotes that have sparked controversy, perpetuated harmful stereotypes, or simply missed the mark in capturing the essence of effective teaching. Join us as we embark on a journey to uncover the treasures and absurdities hidden within the realm of teaching quotes.

Worst Teaching Quotes

  1. “A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.” – Unknown This is too broad and a bit weird. It doesn’t seem weird at first because we’ve seen it on so many tote bags and teacher mugs, but it’s so vague it’s hard to even figure out exactly what it means. Do we hold all of their hands? I’m a high school teacher, and I certainly don’t. Then it’s a metaphor for supporting kids, fine. Do we open up their minds to receive knowledge? We certainly try to, but many of those minds are locked shut for various reasons outside our control. And the idea of touching someone’s heart is so cliché that I just threw up a little in my mouth. This quote is so cheesy and overused that it means almost nothing.
  2. “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.” – Colleen Wilcox If you are still teaching nowadays, it is indeed a gigantic act of optimism… or desperation. But this quote seems to capture how naive we are when we first enter the classroom. We are so optimistic that we can “reach” all of them and when the reality of the daunting task we have taken on finally sets in, it is often a true struggle to remain optimistic. The 300,000 teaching vacancies we have represent 300,000 formerly optimistic people who fled the system when reality set in.
  3. “The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don’t tell you what to see.” – Alexandra K. Trenfor You see this quote all the time, but when taken literally, it’s kind of dumb. “Look over there, kids!” “At what?” “I can’t tell you.” I get that it has a deeper meaning but the reality of teaching usually doesn’t involve deep critical thinking and interpretations. Unfortunately, teaching has become telling kids they have to learn a series of formulas to pass a test that is beyond their ability level. So, in that sense, we aren’t allowed to be “the best teachers” but more so as babysitters and taskmasters.
  4. “The future of the world is in my classroom today.” – Ivan Welton Fitzwater This is kind of a “duh” moment. Kids will grow up to be adults who live in the world. It’s true. However, it can also cause a teacher great anxiety because either the idea of the students you currently have running the country is terrifying, or it’s your responsibility to shape them properly. That’s too much for anyone to ponder.
  5. “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey Maybe it’s because his book bored the crap out of me in college, but I just see the name John Dewey, and I make a sour face. This quote seems to mean that people don’t need a formal education because they will learn by just being alive. I just might agree with him about the way school is going lately. But education does, undoubtedly, in many ways, prepare one for life. Just as life itself educates us. It’s just too obvious, my man. Try again.
  6. “Teachers awaken the potential within each student, helping them realize their capabilities.” – Unknown What gets my panties in a twist about this one is that the average middle or high school teacher has an average of 150 students. This is a very nice ideal for a teacher to strive for, but seriously? Not only do I have to teach 150 kids about proper comma usage, but I have to awaken their potential and help them realize their capabilities too? Again, this is turning the profession into a “calling,” which brings along expectations that teachers should answer the call for little to no money and never push back.
  7. I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think. – Socrates People love this quote. It’s cool, I guess. But it’s also kind of another “duh” moment. You can’t be taught something without thinking about it, right? I suppose this could be about deeper, critical thinking, which is something you can’t teach but merely prompt. If that’s so, then just say that! Just because Socrates said it doesn’t make it life-changing, okay?
  8. The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. – William A. Ward Yes, great teachers inspire their students. But when they’re calling you bruh every two seconds while they’re throwing classroom materials out the window, it becomes a bit harder to be inspirational. Of course, lecturing is an outdated form of teaching that is similar to explaining. Demonstrating is usually superior to telling, but isn’t the next part of this supposed to be about letting the students find out themselves or do it with you? Instead of explaining, demonstrating, or letting students try it, I have to inspire them? To do what? Find out how to do the thing completely on their own? How would I do that without at least explaining the dang thing in the first place?
  9. “It takes a big heart to help shape little minds.” -Unknown This is just an adorable way of saying it takes an unnatural amount of patience to teach little kids. And in that sense, it’s true. But it’s not something you go printing on tote bags and mugs because it’s almost like looking a preschool teacher in the eye and saying, “How in the hell do you do this every day?” which most of them wouldn’t appreciate.
  10. A good teacher is like a candle—it consumes itself to light the way for others. – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk This is the worst teaching quote of all time because it literally says that teachers should burn themselves out for their students. So, if a teacher sets boundaries, uses their sick days, and refuses to take on extra duties for no additional pay, are they a “bad” teacher? This is at the very center of the teacher shortage. We’re done burning down for other people’s kids.

Best Teaching Quotes

  1. “In learning, you will teach, and in teaching, you will learn.” – Phil Collins For me, this is an absolute truth if you are a good teacher. You should listen to and learn from your students. You will also learn more about your own subject matter than you could have imagined.
  2. “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” – B.B. King Well, this is just simply true. Once you can read and write, it’s yours and can’t be taken. And when used well and often, it’s quite powerful.
  3. “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 This is indeed true. We should teach in a way that creates independent learners, thinkers, and doers. Unfortunately, the curriculum now lends itself more to memorization and pointless tasks, but at the heart of education is independent learning.
  4. “A teacher’s guidance and encouragement can transform a student’s life.” – Unknown This is undoubtedly true, and we all know it. We have all been transformed by a teacher, whether for the good or bad. While teachers can’t be expected to transform every life, we certainly have the power to change how we treat our students.
  5. “Great teachers guide students toward self-discovery, encouraging them to think independently.” – Alexandra K. Trenfor Much like Maria Montessori’s quote, this again emphasizes independence of thought and critical thinking, which are more important than ever.
  6. “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression.” – Albert Einstein When teachers are allowed to teach how they want and use their passion to fuel the lessons, they can awaken joy in the learner. When creative expression is allowed in class, it is that much more joyful and holds a student’s attention, unlike anything else.
  7. What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches. – Karl Meninger This is an undeniable truth. Students learn more about life from how their teachers interact with them and their overall demeanor. Will they remember a certain equation you taught them in 20 years? Probably not. But will they remember if you were exceedingly kind and understanding? Undoubtedly.
  8. “Teachers can make such a profound impact on our lives and should be honored as heroes.” — Rainn Wilson Cheesy but true. Teachers do make a profound impact on lives and of course, should be honored as such. I hesitate to agree with the hero part, but it feels right when I think of all the selfless giving of teachers I have known over the years.
  9. Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.” -Unknown To me, this is more about teachers who love their subject matter and age group. If you have a love for the material and don’t mind the age you are teaching so much (or even find them adorable or hilarious), it makes the kids want to learn much more than when they have a teacher who obviously doesn’t want to be there.
  10. “Invest in our teachers, and our children will succeed.” — Barack Obama This is an obvious but essential truth. The teachers have not been invested in thus far, not financially, emotionally, or in any other important way. And the result is that they are fleeing the profession in droves, making it much less likely for our children to succeed. So invest energy, funds, and care into your teachers, and actually listen to and support them, and your children will thrive.

Attention! Some of the links present in this article may be affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase through the link, we might generate a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Additionally, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the links. All of this revenue goes back into Teacher Misery and the mission of improving it and the lives of teachers everywhere. As always, thank you for all your support! :)))

Jane Morris

Jane Morris is the pen name of an ex-teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is worried awful administrators will come after her for spilling their dirty little secrets. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in Writing and Literature from an even fancier (and more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh through the tears.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.