Long division, proper grammar, and state history aren’t the only lessons you learned in school. Whether you realize it or not, your teachers were also sharing valuable life skills and dropping some serious knowledge while they were at the front of the class. Hidden beneath the group projects and field trips were truly life-changing lessons, from collaborating with your peers to seeking out different perspectives and celebrating diversity, to name just a few. Effective teachers can not only help students master a subject such as math, English, or biology; teachers often help students become more confident, kind, and intelligent people.
Perhaps that’s why memories of favorite teachers stick so vividly, even years after the Pythagorean theorem has faded or you’ve forgotten how to conjugate French verbs. A teacher’s impact may be cumulative: building up over time, through morals taught through stories or subtle interactions; or the advice might have been more overt. To discover just how impactful teachers can be for some people, Stacker sent readers a survey about the best advice they ever received from a teacher. Teachers at every grade level—from kindergarten through high school and even college—were considered.
The inspiring and touching responses demonstrate just how big of an impact skillful teachers can have on their students. Each piece of advice on this list stuck with the students who submitted responses long after the school year ended—for decades after they graduated, in many cases. The classroom isn’t just somewhere for students to practice their times tables or struggle through pop quizzes—it’s also a place they can interact with their peers, build self-confidence, and develop as human beings.
Read on for 25 of the most impactful pieces of advice that students ever received from teachers. Who knows? You might learn a thing or two while you’re at it.
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“When I was a sophomore in high school, I met a woman named Helen Sperling. She was a Holocaust survivor who lived in the area where I grew up. Helen was born in Poland and transported to Ravensbrück concentration camp as a teenager. She survived thanks to an indomitable spirit and small acts of defiance. She was forced to work in SS factories producing materials for the war. As a worker, she would misalign the machinery or readjust the settings—anything to fight back, even if it meant risking her life. She refused to be a bystander. And this became the philosophy by which she lived her life, and encouraged others to live their lives: never be a bystander. As I grew closer with Helen, I'd travel with her when she spoke at schools around Central New York to tell her story, to remind people what happens when everyone decides to be a bystander. I think of Helen almost every day. Whenever I'm faced with the choice to step in or stand by, I think about her small acts of rebellion and her unfaltering dedication to fighting for something much bigger than herself.”
— Lauren, Boston
“In 11th-grade AP English, we completed a unit on the Holocaust. We read 'Night' by Elie Wiesel, 'Man's Search for Meaning' by Viktor Frankl, and other essays and literature from survivors and contemporaries of the time. While these weren't [the teacher's] words—they're Elie Wiesel's—she always reminded us the opposite of love is indifference. She always reinforced that no matter where we went, what we pursued, how badly we failed, we should never grow indifferent to any aspect of our life or to any person that we meet.”
— Lauren, Boston
“That no learning can start without forming a relationship.”
“You either win or you learn: Reposition your attitude to see failure as a learning opportunity.”
— Melanie, San Diego, Calif.
“You'll go where you look.”
“Knowing what questions to ask is far more important than knowing the answers.”
— Zac, Los Angeles
“To build a great product, you must be a great consumer.”
— Luke, California
"My teacher said, ‘Be confident to fail.’ I wasn’t sure what he meant at first but learned later that my greatest learning was in failing at something and then improving on it."
— Ros, Lincoln, U.K.
— Brandon, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Measure twice, cut once.”
— Kevin, Los Angeles
“Work hard, play harder.”
— Ali, Bronx, N.Y.
“Get over yourself and try.”
“Listen to and seek people who think differently than you.”
— Julia, California
"My model U.N. (nerd life) teacher always told me to expect Murphy’s law—whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Embrace the adversities and grow from them. It’s been the most useful and real piece of advice I received! Especially as a bright-eyed high schooler."
— Catherine Dam, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
“Starting and running a small business is just as much work, so you might as well try a big idea.”
“The best advice I’ve gotten was from my high school band teacher who told me before you can do something quickly, you have to learn how to do it correctly. Although this lesson was in the context of playing an instrument, it’s one I look back to from time to time when I’m learning something new. It reminds me to put in the work needed to do something well, but also to be patient with myself as I learn new things!”
— Bijal, Syracuse, N.Y.
"'Always make sure you get the rhythm right first, the correct notes will follow.' It was in regards to learning music as well as a metaphor on life."
— Matthew, New Jersey
“Practice makes permanent.”
— Julia, New York
“Inking is thinking.”
— Eddie, Rhode Island
— Brianna, Asbury Park, N.J.
“If you're working on a big project, do something productive for it every day. And that ‘something productive’ can be really small—as small as figuring out what your next step will be or talking about the project to a friend.”
— Betsy, New York
“Life is a marathon, not a race.”
— Julie, Chicago
"As a child, my austere piano teacher taught me that when sight-reading a piece for the first time, it's valuable to be as accurate as possible, no matter how slow you need to take it. While I’m not so convinced on the part of this advice that instills fear in making mistakes, it did underscore the value in respecting the time it takes for you, personally, to learn something new."
— Kristen, Edinburgh, U.K.