Most people are familiar with the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Or as the famous Woody Allen once wrote; “Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym”. This statement suggests that people who have failed or would be failures in the world outside of academia end up as teachers. This same statement is enough to make any future, current or retired teacher’s blood boil.
It is unclear to me where the origin of this saying has come from, but I did find some interesting facts that may have led to the discrediting of teachers over time.
In the Middle Ages, knowledge was viewed as God’s gift. Since it was God’s gift, it was seen as wrong to charge for it. Due to this view, teachers at many institutions were not paid at all for their work. They had to rely on the gifts and charity of appreciative students. Sometimes, a teacher was lucky to receive an apple so he’d have something to eat. As a result, it became difficult to develop a mindset that this profession was pursued by people of high capability if the services they were offering were free of charge.
I personally do not see the logic behind this statement. Teaching takes more than a bachelor’s degree, it takes the ability to implement an immense and broad amount of information and communicate it to a diverse group of young students. Teachers are the first step towards an occupation, towards any occupation that is deemed “superior” to that of an educator. One must (typically) complete both primary and secondary education before they can even continue on to the collegiate level, where they begin to mold their career path. And who guides them through all of these levels of schooling, through all of these confusing, information-loaded, hormone-driven years? Educators.
I recently asked a cooperating teacher I have been volunteering with her view on the matter. I asked her what her reaction would be to someone who truly believed “Those who can’t do, teach”. Her reply was simple and straightforward; “work one day in my classroom”. She works in a high school moderate/severe special education class, so some of the scenarios she deals with are on the extreme, but the message is still the same. Those who think handling a classroom of 25-30 children for 6 hours a day 5 days a week addressing the academic, social, and emotional needs of a highly diverse population should spend one day in our shoes. Teachers pursue their career because we are passionate about what we do, and we want to do it right. But doing it right also means doing it legally, and we must accommodate and please the never ending state and federal demands that are placed on education, mainly through the form of tests. So if you think you can easily motivate a child to take a lengthy test when they don’t see the point, nonetheless want to be in your classroom, please, be my guest.