5 toxic phrases to stop using in the classroom

We all spend some moments in the classroom when we say or do things that we know are not the best practice of teaching. But what about the things you say every day that seem harmful but can actually turn your students off emotionally or cause them unnecessary frustration in their desire to learn? Here are five phrases you might want to reconsider and what you can say instead.

1. “Just try your best.”

What’s wrong with encouraging a student to try their best? Well, if that student brings you an “I don’t understand” because they are unsure of how to proceed in an assignment, it may be frustrating to ask them to “try their best” without further support. Instead, try to unpack what they have with the students To do “Found.” Start there and provide students with an outline or note to help them work. Encourage them to try to answer a question or write a sentence and then assure them that you will check in later to help them further if they need it.

2. “Ask a classmate.”

You provided instructions. You repeat the instructions. You even repeated the students’ instructions. And here comes a student ready to utter the phrase that wants you to tear your hair: “Wait, what are we doing?” Naturally, your response is: “Ask a classmate.” We were all there. But that solution probably won’t deliver the results you’re hoping for. Chances are, other students may not know what to do, or they may not be able to properly relay instructions. A good solution is to display a visual of the instructions somewhere for easy reference to the students and say, “Go check the board, still let me know if you have any questions.”

3. “Take a break.”

There comes a moment in every teacher’s week, day or hour, when a student’s behavior is too much. They are shouting, disrupting classes and having a negative impact on the learning of others. In moments of frustration, you sternly say, “Take a break.” In general, sending students out of the classroom is rarely effective. But sometimes a student can benefit from the opportunity to change the landscape or reset themselves. Instead of “taking a break”, be more intentional by sending a student to the office to complete a task, such as taking a note or borrowing a pencil and going to the house next door. When students return, commend them for their help. Remind them of their expectations and help them re-enter the activity successfully.

4. “Did you tell them to stop?”

You are on vacation and a student is doing or saying bad things to a peer to complain to you. Your first reaction may be, “Did you tell them to stop?” Or “Did you tell them you didn’t like it?” Students will often admit that they did not respond to negative behavior, but even if you are their first resort, they probably do not know how to navigate the situation and come to you for strategies. As frustrating as it may be to mediate countless arguments in your day, work with the complainant to understand how they can express their feelings. Help them find opportunities to talk to other students and mediate conversations.

5. “I. I know You can add more. “

The problem with this statement lies in its ambiguity. We all know the frustration of a teacher when students write one or two sentences and tell us that they are “done,” but simply trying to encourage a student to “add more” does not give them a strategy on how to do it. Students generally want to do well, so if they don’t think we are the best, there is probably a reason. Instead, try: “Let’s see how we can add more to this part of your work.” Providing a specific point of detail makes the task seem less difficult, and your support will help a student to know that they themselves cannot be expected to know how to “do well”.

Which toxic phrase would you add to the list? Do you find classroom phrases and responses helpful? Let us know in the comments.

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