Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."

I've run into this terrible saying so many times in the past few days that I just have to say something about it.

First of all, it's a lie.  I'm not saying that there are no incompetent teachers, of course.  That would also be a lie.  But I am saying that we do not have so many incompetent people in our profession that it justifies saying that we are all incompetent.  When I walk into a room full of teachers, which happens more often than you might think (my life is kind of weird that way), I always see within a few minutes that I am walking into a room full of caring, professional, and exceptionally intelligent people who are always looking for better ways to teach the students in their classrooms.  Some are better at it than others, of course, but there's a baseline standard to which we are all held, and it is a strict one.  We are constantly evaluated for our effectiveness, and if we fall short of the standard, there are consequences.

Teaching is not the easy job that so many non-teachers assume that it is.  When school is in session, we spend more hours in a day with our students than many of their parents are able to unless it's a weekend or a holiday.  Thus we are not only expected to teach our students; we are also expected to raise them.  We take our work home with us; lessons don't plan themselves, and the work that we collect from our students does not mark itself.  We take courses to learn new things about teaching and learning so as to be better and more interesting teachers for our students.  We deal with irate parents who don't like it when their perfect little angel is disciplined for beating up a classmate or who are upset because their child failed an assignment.  We are often the first to notice when a student has a mental health issue or a learning disability, and when the problem is found and understood, we spend extra time on our lesson plans to make sure that we put the necessary modifications and accommodations into place so that these students (and frequently, there is more than one student in a classroom who needs such modifications and accommodations) have as fair a chance at success as their peers.  To be a teacher is to be a diplomat, a temporary substitute parent, a record-keeper, an actor, a researcher, and a perpetual student all at once.  It is a challenging profession, and one that is as important as any other.

And yet the general public is consistently encouraged to think poorly of us, to blame us for everything that goes wrong, and to de-value what we do.  "They're just lazy," they're told.  "Look at all the vacation time they get.  Look at how well they get paid.  If they want any respect, they should get a real job.  Teaching is so easy, anyone can do it.  They don't need sick leave.  They don't need a better salary, not even the newer ones who are just starting out.  They don't need preparation and planning time.  And if they complain, don't listen.  They're just whining because they don't understand the real world.  They need to shut up and do their easy jobs.  Those who can, do.  Those who can't, teach."  It's a lie, and, as lies go, it's a particularly dangerous one.

Put simply, those who can, do.  Those who can, and who are dedicated to making sure that others can as well, teach.  Those who can't are not teachers.

And people who sling this thoroughly false and terrible statement, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" at teachers are acting maliciously and are often wilfully ignorant.

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