Quotes to Inspire Educators

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Teaching can be a tough profession, and educators might need a little inspiration to find motivation for that next class or lesson or even just to keep going. Plenty of philosophers, writers, poets, and teachers have provided pithy sayings about this noble profession over the centuries. Peruse some of these thoughts about education and be inspired.


"A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on a cold iron." —Horace Mann

Mann, an early-19th-century educator, wrote numerous books on the profession, including "On the Art of Teaching," which was published in 1840 but is still relevant today.

"A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations." —Patricia Neal

Neal, an Oscar-winning actress who died in 2010, was likely referring to movie directors, who can either act like masters dictating what they want their actors to do or motivate their thespians through inspiration and teaching.

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." —William Arthur Ward

"One of America's most quoted writers of inspirational maxims," according to Wikipedia, Ward offered many other thoughts about education, such as this one listed by azquotes: "The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome." 

Conveying Knowledge

"I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think." —Socrates

Arguably the most famous Greek philosopher, Socrates developed the Socratic method, where he would throw out a string of questions that sparked critical thinking.

"The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery." —Mark Van Doren

A 20th-century writer and poet, Van Doren would have known a thing or two about education: He was an English professor at Columbia University for nearly 40 years.

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." —Samuel Johnson

It's not surprising that Johnson would have commented on the value of looking up information. He wrote and published "A Dictionary of the English Language" in 1755, one of the first and most important English-language dictionaries.

"The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change." —Carl Rogers

A giant in his field, Rogers was the founder of the humanistic approach to psychology, based on the principle that to grow, a person needs an environment that provides genuineness, acceptance, and empathy, according to SimplyPsychology.

The Noble Profession

"Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of man..." —Horace Mann

Mann, the 19th-century educator, warrants a second quote on this list because his thoughts are so telling. The notion of education as a social tool—an equalizer that cuts through all socioeconomic levels—is a major tenet of American public education.

"If you would thoroughly know anything, teach it to others." —Tryon Edwards

Edwards, a 19th-century theologian, offered this concept that applies equally to teachers and students. If you really want your students to show they understand the material, teach it to them first, and then have them teach it back to you.

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary." —Thomas Carruthers

An expert on international democracy who has taught at several universities in the United States and Europe, Carruthers is referring to one of the hardest things for a teacher to do: let go. Educating students to the point where they no longer need you is one of the highest achievements in the profession.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

"When a teacher calls a boy by his entire name, it means trouble." —Mark Twain

Of course the famous 19th-century American writer and humorist had something to say about education. After all, he was the author of classic stories about the country's two most famous fictional mischief makers: "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."

"Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater." —Gail Godwin

An American novelist, Godwin took her inspiration for this quote from inventor Thomas Edison, who said, "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." —Derek Bok

A former president of Harvard University, where obtaining a degree can cost more than $60,000 a year, Bok makes the convincing case that forgoing education can be far more costly in the long run.

“If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original.” —Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson frequents the TED TALK circuit, discussing how schools must change if educators are to meet the needs of the future. Often funny, he sometimes refers to education as a "death valley" that we must change in order to instill a climate of possibility in our youth.

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Kelly, Melissa. "Quotes to Inspire Educators." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, thoughtco.com/top-quotes-about-teaching-and-education-8294. Kelly, Melissa. (2021, September 7). Quotes to Inspire Educators. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-quotes-about-teaching-and-education-8294 Kelly, Melissa. "Quotes to Inspire Educators." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-quotes-about-teaching-and-education-8294 (accessed March 23, 2023).