7 Lies to Stop Telling Your Students

by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller


1.  "This will go in your permanent record."

Perhaps, in an effort to motivate students to improve, you make comments such as, "If you fail this class, it will go on your permanent record." "Once you get a reputation, it follows you everywhere," is a similar type communication.

Not true. There is no such thing as a permanent record. You are not your high school grades, the notes that were placed in your file or the time you were suspended for three days. You are not even the thoughts you created, the feelings you felt or the behaviors you chose at some other time in your life. You are not even who you were yesterday.

Every day is new. Today, you can start over, make a different choice, decide again. It's your move. Now.

2.  "I made that mistake on purpose to see if you would notice."

When you make a noticeable mistake and a student points it out, you might be tempted to respond with, "I did it on purpose to see if you were paying attention." Some students will believe you. Most will not. To our way of thinking, this claim should never be used when explaining a mistake unless it is true. And if it is true, why would you want to make a purposeful error anyway?

Wouldn't it be a wiser use of your time to teach students the correct way to do something rather than seeing if you can catch them not paying attention? Seems like a setup to us.

Use the opportunity to share your appreciation for the observation. Thank the student for being willing to take a risk by speaking up and pointing out the error. This appreciative reaction to one student will inform all your students that it is permissible to speak up and question the teacher in this classroom.

3.  "I'll only say nice things about you to your parents at conferences."

This might be true for some students, but it is not true for others. In fact, it is often best for your students if you give parents clear, accurate, and honest feedback about each of them whether that information is positive or not.

In this case, the truth sounds like this, "I'm looking forward to meeting your parents tomorrow. We will be discussing your progress so far this semester. That includes academics, behavioral issues, attitudes, interpersonal skills and more. I will have some nice things to say about each of you. We will be discussing areas of strength and places that could use improvement. Our conversations will focus on how to best help you shore up some areas and continue to grow in others. All of our conversation will focus on finding the best ways to encourage you to continue your development as a self-responsible, caring, conscious student."

4.  "I'm going to read your papers and comment on them as soon as I get home."

No, you're not. You've put in a long day of being a professional educator. Now you are switching into family mode, taking care of household issues, thinking about many other things than those papers.

Yes, you will look at them later. Yes, you will give them your full attention, writing detailed comments and looking for what might be necessary to reteach. And you will most likely not do it as soon you get home.

Tell your students, "I'm going to read your papers tonight and have them ready for you tomorrow. You will find comments on them that I gave serious consideration to, and I hope they will move you forward. Please read them and give the same serious consideration that I did when I wrote them. See you all tomorrow."

5.  "I love all of you just the same."

While it might be true, but highly unlikely, that you love all your students the same amount, it is definitely not true that you love them all the same.

Some students you love by holding them accountable for their actions in a way that separates the deed from the doer. Others you love by challenging them with a rigorous task. Another you love with a hug or a high-five. You may express love to some by nurturing them with reflective responses that demonstrate understanding of their feelings. One might require tough love. Others could use soft versions of love.

No, you do not love them all just the same.

6.  "I like the way Juan Carlos is sitting."

"I appreciate how Arwa is working."

"I like how Mary and Yolanda are talking quietly.

The falseness of these statements is not contained in the spoken words but rather is imbedded in the intent. Of course you like the way Juan Carlos is sitting or you wouldn't have said that. The dishonesty is revealed when we examine who the message is really intended for.

"I like the way Juan Carlos is sitting,' is not intended for Juan Carlos. It is intended for everyone else who is not sitting the same way. It is using Juan Carlos to manipulate others into doing what he is doing. On some level this student knows he is being used.

If you are not happy with how some students are sitting, we suggest you publically announce your concerns to the class. Communicate you present desire with descriptive criteria. "I am concerned with how some of you are sitting. I'd like to see feet flat on the floor, backs against the chairs, eyes looking at me. Check yourself and see if you are in that position now."

7.  "You are really close."

"You're really close. You are only one number off," appears at first glance to be accurate. And indeed, this student might be only one number off. However, this statement is only true if you are preoccupied with getting right answers.

If the goal is understanding rather than having a right answer, the statement might be completely false. If the answer was arrived at by a guess the answer isn't anywhere near being close, not in a way that is significant. On the other hand, a student who creates an answer that is way off, not even close, may have a firm understanding of the method but simply made one small calculation error.

Be cautious if what you label as really close. It might not be completely true or even close.

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