To Teach is To Do

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There is a quote that states, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” I have heard this quote during my time as an educator in public schools in this form, “ Those who can’t do, teach.” It’s interesting to see how “telephone” has been played over the years with this phrase. Originally, this saying can be traced back to the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw. Of course, Shaw meant it in an entirely different context. His reference was intended for revolutionaries, not educators.

As a teacher hearing this statement for the first time evoked many negative emotions out of my being. First, I was upset. I was capable of doing many things well and I was always one of those students that found it hard to figure out what I wanted to “do” because I was great at doing a lot. How could this statement apply to me since I was not teaching due to lack of aptitude or ability? I was also disappointed with our society in general for this statement.

Teaching is an honorable profession; no other professions would exist without someone else educating another individual in that area. Period. Even if it is an apprenticeship, or technical skill, we all need educators in some form or fashion. I also could identify examples of teachers that may have fueled this statement. Those individuals that were in the field to have summers off while still getting paid, do the bare minimum for their students during the academic year and were minimally invested in these students as growing human beings that will contribute to our society one day.

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I reconciled all of these negative emotions into pushing to be a better teacher. Taking it one step further than those around me that may have settled for average. I wanted to bring enthusiasm and also inspire my students to not only be interested in science but also enjoy learning it. I remember the great teachers I had along the way that were passionate about their subject matter and it bled into their very craft. They inspired me to want to be a better student and even a better person. I think we all can identify a teacher that served this purpose in our lives. Those teachers that filled us with hope and wonder and taught us how to think critically about the world around us. These individuals were not only great teachers, but also intelligent, thought-provoking people. To think they were in the profession because they are unable to “do” is simply ludicrous.

Now being a research scientist and also educator I realize that if I cannot teach it, I do not know my subject manner well. By engaging in teaching you become a constant learner of knowledge and lifelong student yourself – learning from the students you teach and also the knowledge you seek in them and outside of the classroom walls to hone your craft. So, next time someone tells you this statement maybe if you can’t teach you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

What are your thoughts? Has this ever been told to you?

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