Dear Future Teachers,
As educators, you play a large role in the lives of your students. You can set the tone for how your students view themselves and how they feel about school for the rest of their educational careers. It's important to be mindful of how we talk to or about students because some words can stick, leaving students with negative views about themselves or about their education. Here are 5 phrases we, as current and future educators, should delete from our vocabulary towards students.
"You're so smart!" My friend once told me not to say this to students and I was baffled at first! Telling someone they are smart is a compliment, right? Teachers (and other adults) often use this term with good intentions, but by using this phrase, you're implying that one is born with the skillset to get good grades or grasp the material quickly. This may give the idea to students that they don't need to try as hard because they are naturally smart. When these students reach higher level courses and have to work harder to succeed, they may question how smart they really are. They may not try problems or assignments that don't come easily to them. Instead, try saying "I saw how hard you worked to find the solution to this problem," or "Nice job, I can see the time and effort you put into this." This way, you are acknowledging the work students put behind their school assignments and encouraging them to continue to tackle problems that aren't always easy.
"You're nothing like your sister/brother!" Comparing students to a sibling you taught in the past takes away the individuality of your student. I have a younger sister, and we have very different interests and strengths in school. My sister has never liked being compared to me, and I don't blame her. If you're an educator, try to avoid lumping siblings together. It can create false expectations for you as a teacher of how your students will act in class or what subjects they will excel in. Treat every student as an individual, regardless of your past experiences with older siblings.
"This should be easy for you." This phrase can hurt a students' confidence and deter them from asking for help later on. When you say this to a student, you're brushing them off. It doesn't make the assignment or task any easier for them, instead it might make them feel upset with themselves for not understanding the material quicker. Instead, ask students which part they may be struggling with and work with them to put them on the right path! Teachers are supposed to guide their students, so we can't leave them helpless if they have questions, even if we expected them to grasp the material quicker.
Calling students out by name to shame/humiliate them. Whether it's for a misbehavior or about academic performance, it's best to address the student individually. At my job with Student U, we were trained to address students in a subtle way. If someone is not paying attention or talking out of turn, instead of stopping my lesson I would walk by them and gently tap their desk. This let them know that I could see them and helped to bring their attention back to the task at hand without calling them out in front of the class. I could continue my lesson without getting the entire class involved. Humiliating students does nothing for your student-teacher relationship, and it's not likely to get students to magically behave. A conversation after class or away from other students is more personal and can help build trust between the student and yourself. If you need to get a particular student to stop talking, try saying "Okay class, let's bring our attention back to the front." Making general statements allows you to avoid embarrassing students.
"Act your age." Especially when teaching elementary school children, this phrase is not helpful. Kids are kids, so we shouldn't expect them to be perfectly behaved and practice excellent self-control for 8 hours straight. This doesn't mean you should let all inappropriate behavior slide, it just means you need to find other ways to communicate with students who are misbehaving. This phrase is also harmful to those who have learning disorders or developmental differences from their peers. We can't expect all 9-year-olds to act exactly the same. Instead, try reminding your student what your expectations are and how their behavior may be disrupting the classroom community. Work with your student to solve the problem together!
I won't lie, sometimes teaching can be frustrating! It doesn't mean you don't love your kids or that they are bad students. As teachers and professionals though, it is up to us to speak to students with respect and understanding. A lot of these phrases were engrained in me from my own time in school, but I'm going through the process of un-learning harmful words and phrases in the classroom so that I can create a healthier environment for students to learn in. It may take some practice, but it'll be worth it! Let's be mindful of our students because they are people, too! We can pour positivity and support back into the classroom to make a more wholesome environment for both the students and for you!