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Those Who Can’t Do, Teach

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Most people are quite familiar with the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” This statement suggests that people who have failed or would be failures in the world outside of academia end up as teachers.

The origins of this quote and various permutations of it are unclear. An early quote of similar meaning comes from George Bernard Shaw in "Maxims for Revolutionists" in Man and Superman (1903). The history of viewing the teaching profession with contempt or at the very least disregard may date back to the origins of the apple for the teacher custom.

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. As a result of 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. It’s rather difficult to develop a mindset that a profession is pursued by people of high capability if that service is offered free of charge.

The value of the work being done as well as the education level required to perform that work is reflected in the salary, yet teachers are still relatively low-paid compared to other jobs with similar educational requirements. Additionally, teaching is one of the few professions that require a higher education, yet people commonly suggest those who take that career path are deficient in some fashion.

Being a teacher requires more than a standard Bachelors degree, but many people still view teaching as a profession for lazy or unskilled people. A favored chestnut among those who hold such views is the anecdotal story about the incompetence of teachers who teach topics related to professions in which they have never engaged.

For example, a business teacher who has never successfully run a business can’t possibly know real world business well enough to teach the topic effectively.

The attitude that a teacher must have worked in the profession that his students will eventually pursue is a reflection of ignorance of the point of education. There is a difference between receiving an education and attending vocational school. A vocational or technical school teaches specific skills that a student carries over to a job.

Education is about equipping students with a broad base of knowledge they can draw on to become successful in the occupations they pursue.

It is up to the student to digest the information he receives and find an application for it in his life, not for the teacher teach him each individual step. Considering that each company and job demands a customized set of skills, this is certainly a more reasonable approach. Even similar jobs may require different approaches at different types of businesses.

The sales tactics for selling computers requires a different approach than selling cars. Also, companies in the same industry often adopt their own approach. Marketing at Apple, where the focus is on design and limited numbers of models, would be a very different job than marketing at Dell, where the emphasis is on frequent sales, different equipment combinations, and low price.

Universities need only teach the fundamentals of each discipline and the companies can do the rest.

If you feel teachers don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to the real world, then you’re missing the point of education. The point is not to memorize a sequence of steps to be regurgitated as needed at a future job. Teachers are there to help you learn how to be smart enough to figure out those steps on your own.

About Shari

  • Aaron Mayhew

    You:”Teachers are there to help you learn how to be SMART enough to figure out those steps on your own”
    Me: No they don’t.
    For your information I have a friend who has a masters in bioengineering and right now he has trouble finding a company to accept him because he has a lack of experience. What good is a general based knowledge if people don’t accept it in the real world?
    What good is teaching general based knowledge when the ones who provide it(aka teachers)
    depend solely on teaching general based knowledge?
    Granted we need teachers to provide the fundamentals of math science english and history regardless if its applicable to the source(source = teacher)
    But the problem is that teachers rely on teaching. It would be better to have people to teach when they don’t need to rather than having teaching their only source of income because
    #1. Having teachers not needing to teach for income shows that they really want to teach.
    #2. They don’t need the money therefore education can potentially be cheaper
    #3. Its a bonus to have a teacher lead by example if they have experience in directly applying the fundamentals especially in college.
    So in conclusion we need teachers that can do as well.

    • Kennedy

      So, it’s the fault of teachers that your friend can’t find a job? Because of his lack of precise knowledge? Surely that is the fault of the system and curriculum and not the teacher?

      I do think it is the fault of your teachers not to have provided you with the skills to put together a well-structured and sound argument, it seems you were not provided with such a base of skills. On that point, yes, your teachers have failed you.

      However, your argument that teachers should not need to be paid and merely work because they want to is flawed on so many levels I could write a lengthy paper on it. What job was ever performed to excellence by people who didn’t need and want it? The need to earn is intrinsic in how we perceive the worth of our jobs and without the need… people often don’t care anymore.

      Education would cost less if teachers did not need the money?ANY sector would cost less if the workers didn’t need the money. What are you going to do? Get Bill Gates to start teaching Computer Science in schools? Yes, I’m sure he’s be more than willing. This is an immature argument. Why on earth should the education sector be given less money because you deem it to not be performing properly? What about other areas, other departments?

      I do not believe that all teachers are brilliant at theirs jobs, but the same can be said for any company. The only reason that teachers get such a hard time is because there’s an audience there to watch their mistakes; an audience who goes home and tells other willing and apparently begrudging listeners.

      • Aaron Mayhew

        First of all you need to calm down. I’m just advocating for teachers who can teach and do. Why is that such a horrible request.

        Second, when did I blame teachers for my friend not getting a job? I merely said teaching is not enough in this day in age. It was a response to the statement: ” Teachers are there to help you learn how to be SMART enough to figure out those steps on your own” (I don’t understand how I wasn’t clear on that).

        Third, I NEVER EVEN IMPLIED THAT TEACHERS SHOULD WORK FOR FREE . I said they don’t need money therefore education can be cheaper and the lesser need for income reveals their desire to teach more than ones who are dependent. I can see you misunderstanding that so I’ll let you off the hook but what I meant was if a person is already well off and he wants to teach then there wouldn’t be any concern about raises or strikes because there is no dependency and more focus on other things then making sure a teacher is well off. So there is no need for you to write a paper on how wrong I was for something I never said.

        Lastly, your argument “ANY sector would cost less if the workers didn’t need the money” I want to say I’m glad you know that but the problem is teaching stems from application unless you are talking about theory (and that’s another story that I wont get into.) People need to apply before they know what they are talking about. I believe a person should experience the workforce first. Usually when people make it to the workforce they should have dominated their careers to where they can retire and then decide to teach having knowledge and experience he can pass down and never having to go hungry even if he had horrible pay which I’m not supporting. I know that’s asking for a lot however what’s wrong with wanting that perfect world?

      • isthisnick valid

        wow I guess that girl had really bad teachers hahhaha

        Certainly we shoudn`t pay teachers a dime so only bored people take some time in their lives to teach ? :O

        As for all the people who can’t get jobs with their brilliant degrees…. wtf where are you living in??

        I got a job right after graduating, full time and without even trying hard…

        All my friends told me my degree was “shitty” coz it wasn’t engineering… well LOL

        As for the engineers…maybe you guys aren’t getting a job coz you are aiming too high on your first year. If you guys need experience there’s something called “graduate trainees” Open your eyes and start working, with one year of experience (even with a lesser salary) you will be good to go.

        What the heck I even know people working in these fields just because they have the required skills and they don’t have the education. The problem is they get paid less than those with the education…

        So all in all:
        Education IS useful and those who fail to appreciate its value are probably quite shortsighted.

        Experience is necessary in any job, and therefore it is good to choose degrees, etc. that facilitate the students some practice in the real world, so they have something to write in their CV!

        And last but not least: Teachers are humans. Humans want to eat. Therefore, they need to get paid, and a decent wage if you don’t want all the bright people to go to other professions!

  • Pissed Off Engineering Grad

    I hold a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from one of the top 100 public schools. I graduate there with honors. I been accepted in highly prestigious honors Fraternities such as Golden Key, Phi Kappa Phi, and Eta Kappa Nu. I a co-author in an academic publication when I was an undergrad for some research as well as got funding and led my own research project while I was an undergraduate student. I did a small job in Japan to see the country, but once I got back to the US no one would hire me at all because I didn’t have the experience. Even McDonalds rejected me when I got so desperate I need any job.

    I went to Korea and taught English. I know the teaching side of things. However, I went back to school from one of the top universities in Korea and got a Masters in Engineering. Guess what. I still cant find a job in the engineering field because I don’t have the experience. This don’t have the experience is pissing me off to no end. I been traveling Asia with what little I have left trying to find work. But the only jobs that keep coming up is teaching jobs, and its teaching English. In the US, I cant even get a job.

    I feel thoroughly insulted as the only jobs I can take is teaching English. What good is an education if you cannot apply it in the real world. I am really insulted because I never wanted to have a profession teaching English, I wanted to be an Engineer. That is why I went to school for, and that is why I bust my butt trying to do. Teaching is something I would like to do for fun in my spare time to share my knowledge not as a profession. Because I want to DO!

    • Pissed Off Engineering Grad

      Some grammar and spelling errors I missed. Sorry, but am pretty angry when I wrote it.

    • nvtro

      That’s really your fault then for not having a plan mate and teaching English in asia doesn’t really give you a full spectrum view… they hire anyone at all. I also have worked in asia; China, Japan and Korea. I am currently living in China (Shanghai) contracting myself to UK and American companies as a software engineer in a relatively hot technology field. I’m on a wage about 15 times that of locals (15 times city wage), whilst my expat friends teaching English here are on local wage… They always moan about it but it was their choice.

      As for “those who can’t do teach”, it really depends on the teacher. There are a lot of teachers for example who can’t find a job in their market, e.g. physicists (not enough research grants or whatever), who supplement a living through teaching. I guarantee that these people can “do”. On the other end some teacher’s (usually in primary or secondary schools) just aren’t as up to date in their field as they should be.

      These people usually say oh but we have a larger skillset (working with children and large groups of people) but I have skills with meeting clients, giving demonstrations and explaining technical details to people within my team. So I don’t find that excuse acceptable. The best teachers are the one’s who are constantly in a process of keeping their own field knowledge up to date and even taking it up as a hobby – if they cannot make a living from it.

      Regardless I usually have a higher opinion of those who “Do”, especially bachelors of science/engineering type jobs as I think these will be the people who will make the most difference to the way we live in the near future.

  • JustSaying

    Instead of arguing…. why not look for a job? Instead of whining… why not consider alternative careers where your skills can be applied? Instead of blaming each other… why not start at the bottom (may not be your field/desired title) and get your foot in the door with a good company. Then work your way to the top. No one will get their dream job in their first year out of college. Or their second. Or their third. Realize the journey to that ‘dream’ job can take 5+ years realistically. This isn’t a message bent on instigating a fight but just calling out the silliness as I see it.