- As we grow up, our teachers share significant wisdom and advice with us.
- Whether we learn specific lessons or we absorb their words through osmosis, what we gain from them becomes invaluable.
- Here, 14 people share the best advice they have ever received from a teacher.
Throughout childhood and into adulthood, various teachers shape the people we become, and certain pieces of their advice resonate with us deeply. Whether the advice was meant to be advice or they offhandedly said something that stuck with us, some teachers’ words of wisdom end up staying with us for years to come. Soon, we may even repeat their advice so that others can benefit from it, too.
Adam Earnheardt, Ph.D., chair and professor of the department of communication at Youngstown State University, said that what teachers do and say is no different than the sensei who offers advice about life wrapped in martial arts training.
“When I think I’m going to say something particularly impactful, I’ll ask my students to pay attention, I’ll repeat it, and I’ll ask them to write it down or record it,” Earnheardt told Business Insider. However, he said he finds that some of the best advice he gives doesn’t come in these predetermined moments. “Rather, it occurs in random side conversations between main points during a lesson or in reactions to questions about the materials we cover during those lessons.”
To Dr. Earnheardt’s point, here, 14 people share the best advice they have ever received from a teacher. (Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.)
A professor at Babson College once irately screamed at our class, “When reading, you should never encounter a word you don’t understand and fail to look it up!”
When I was in 10th grade, my homeroom teacher wrote in my yearbook, “Adam, you’ve got a lot to offer, so don’t hold back, OK?” While I doubt now that he realised how important that advice would be, it’s proven to be a touchstone for my life.
The advice had a double impact: It got me motivated to share it with others, and then it got me to realise the difference between doing things just to do them – “keeping busy” – and doing what mattered.
I’m a yoga and meditation teacher, and this is the best advice I received from a teacher. She said: “Sometimes it helps to think about rejection as a form of protection.”
When you are feeling down because you didn’t get a grant, you weren’t accepted into a program, or something you wrote wasn’t accepted for publication, it’s good to think it wasn’t because you aren’t good enough but because the Universe is protecting you.
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a teacher came from a music professor. He told me: “Say ‘yes,’ then figure it out.” He said that was how he landed major contracts with Disney and other brands to score their parades and productions.
The advice itself is short, but insightful:
- Say yes to opportunities of interest to you – even when you don’t feel 100% ready or, in his case, even when a particular sub-genre of music wasn’t his forte – you need to instill confidence.
- Then, figure it out. To have any sort of lasting impact, you can’t just be smoke and mirrors – you must invest time and energy to hone your craft and deliver on your promise.
Applying this advice, I’ve advanced in my own career, landing opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have, and now advise others likewise.
The advice is: “Do it well, or don’t do it at all.” I also love the fact that the teacher said “well,” not perfect, as I’ve found the aim for perfection is an excuse to not put the necessary stuff out there.
My second grade teacher, taught nearly every student in the second grade in my elementary school in the ’50s in the District of Columbia. Back then, we were taught cursive writing. For some reason, I wrote mine in an odd slant, and it bothered me because others wrote their letters differently.
My teacher didn’t see this as a negative, telling me that my overly slanted writing indicated the individual, unique person she thought I would someday be. I always remembered that when peers thought I was weird because I always did my own thing.
My art teacher was a bright light in my life at a time when I didn’t truly believe in myself and my abilities. In 1994, during my senior year, she wrote something on a print I purchased from her that I have never forgotten: “You are greatness in the works.”
Those words helped me so much, and I have had the chance to talk with her about this many times since. She helped me to see that I shouldn’t strive for being perfect; just do your best every day to be great and that is enough.
My senior year in high school, I met with the guidance counselor to discuss where I wanted to apply to college. He told me I was shooting too high and needed more backup schools. As I returned to my AP maths class after our meeting, I was very sad.
After class, my teacher asked me what was going on and I told her. She said I was a great student and not to worry – she was writing my recommendation letters and said I would get into a top school. (She was right – I went to Stanford for college and then Harvard Business School.)
That guidance counselor was a precursor of many bosses and tough people I’ve had to deal with in my career. My maths teacher taught me the importance of persistence and determination; she made my skin thicker and taught me not to give up on my dreams. I am 53 now and have never forgotten it.
The best advice I’ve received from a teacher was from my ninth grade world history teacher. She told me: “Never apologise for something that you’ve done your best at. If someone doesn’t accept your best, then that’s their issue, not yours. Never feel sorry for doing your best, and never downplay your talents.”
Here’s the advice from my teacher that helped me declutter my mind to focus on my work. She said: “Every time you feel ‘I can’t do it,’ take a step back and breathe; when you get back to your task, you’ll come in with more clarity and better focus.”
I received this advice when I was 15, and her words have empowered me – from my examinations to my life decisions and work alike.
The best advice (and lesson) I got from a teacher was a long time ago when I was a kid. After I was late, I remember my teacher told me, “You are a thief – you steal the most important thing in life, time, and there is no way to take it back – so every time you are making someone wait for you, you are stealing their time.” It deeply affected me.
In one of my very first lessons in uni, I answered a question with “I think … ” The teacher said, “No one cares what you think.” He was a nice man and wasn’t being mean – but he was right: Everything I said or did at uni for the next three years had to be backed up by reading from people with some earned credibility and had to be balanced and supported by stats and facts. It was a life lesson that has held me in good stead in my career, too.
Second was when I was learning to write news stories (studying journalism) and the teacher, who was a former editor of a local paper, came and looked over my shoulder. He said, “I think we know what needs improving here,” leaned over, took the mouse, and highlighted the copy. He then just hit “delete” on all of it and said, “Start again.” He wasn’t being funny and was completely deadpan in his delivery. But he was right: Sometimes it’s better to just start fresh.
The best advice I’ve ever received from a teacher is to always embrace feedback. Feedback is not synonymous with praise; in fact, feedback can be painful, especially when it’s most needed.
This advice has become the foundation of my desire to be a lifelong learner. I grow every time I embrace the challenge of receiving and internalizing feedback from all levels in my life, both personal and professional.
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