“You’re Late” : 5 Foolish Things We Say To Our Students

One of my students came to school about an hour and a half late the other day.  She walked into class without a care in the world.  I turned to her and said “you’re late”.  As soon as it came out of my mouth I realized how ridiculous that was.  She absolutely knows that she is late.  What good could possibly come from me interrupting class to announce this to her?  Was I thinking that my stern tone of voice was sending her the message that punctuality is important? Ha! Not likely. Here are five other questionable (in my opinion) things we sometimes say to our students.  Don’t feel bad! I’m guilty of it too.  I’m hoping that with a little self-reflection, we might be able to eliminate some of these from our classrooms.



“If it’s not done on time I won’t accept it.”

Why oh why do we say this to our students?  Basically we’re telling them that the assigned work actually has no value because there is no real reason to do it once the due date has passed.  What was the lesson that was to be learned from this activity?  Was it purely a lesson in punctuality?  To really teach our kids about time management, the best solution would be to have the students complete the late work, while also managing their current work.  That experience will hopefully allow students to understand that keeping up with their work is actually the better option.  If you want more helpful information on this topic, see Rick Wormeli’s work on late work. 

“Homework must be done at home.”

Again, what is the objective of the lesson?  If the homework assignment is supposed to be a lesson in completing work in alternative settings, it would make sense that you would want the student to complete it somewhere other than school.  Otherwise, who cares where they do it? If a student has some free time and chooses to get a jump on their homework, I say let them have at it.

“You have to learn this because you’ll need it for the next grade.”

This is in response  to “why do we need to know this” and it pretty much carries as much weight as “because I said so”.  I believe that when students understand and buy into the purpose behind their learning they will be more likely to take ownership.  Students who take ownership of their learning are motivated and are more likely to remember what they’ve learned. Why? Because they care.  If we can’t come up with a better reason for why they need to learn certain things, maybe we should take a closer look at our curriculum.

“Do this independently” (followed by) “Why didn’t you ask for help?”

I have caught myself in this trap.Why do we ask kids to do things independently and then when they struggle we wonder why they didn’t ask for assistance? Of course the goal is for students to be able to reach mastery of skills at an independent level.  These are very big steps and sometimes we as teachers forget that those steps need to be built into the learning environment.  In addition, how much in our adult lives do we accomplish without any help at all?  When we are learning something new, we reach out for help and advice.     This type of mixed message we are sending to our students is so confusing.  When I realized how much I was saying this I decided to try a new approach.  I now say something like “try it independently first and then ask for help with the things that are tricky for you”.

 “No, you may not go to your locker.”

Many of my students struggle with executive functioning and organization so this comes up quite a bit.  If a student comes to class and says that he/she does not have their materials, I used to say tough luck.  I’m sure I was much nicer about it, but the message was pretty much the same.  Then, I realized how silly that was.  If the student knows where their materials are, why wouldn’t I expect them to go their stuff? Just to be clear, I’m not going to stop class and wait for them and I’m going to communicate about how long I believe it should take a reasonably mobile human to get a book from a locker and then return, but I am absolutely going to let them go.  If I forget something, I need to go back and get it and I believe my students should do the same.


At this point in the school year, our rules, regulations, and routines are planted firmly in place.  This is a wonderful time to reflect on our classroom practices and decide perhaps that some of them could use an overhaul.

What are some of your phrases that will be on the chopping block for next year?



&nbspphoto credit: Cartoon angry army drill sergeant shouting via photopin (license)

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