“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”
George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists: Education. Man and Superman, 1903.
Thanks Shaw, this one little quote has caused countless numbers of teachers grief over the years. It is a quote that most people would be familiar with, and certainly every teacher I know has heard it, at least once. Probably directed at them for amusement value from a non teaching friend or relative. And that hurts, the implication being that you are unable to do anything else in life.
It pretty much defines the view of the teaching profession, certainly in my experiences. Low level of respect, low level of pay, low level of benefits. Teachers in North America, Australia and the UK often have a tough time with their careers, the high turnover of teachers in these countries is testament to that.
In International Schools in Asian counties, the conditions and pay are much better than ‘back home’ yet the salaries are still very much below that of other expats, teachers are still near the bottom rung of the expat salary ladder. It matters not that in many Asian countries the mantra is that teaching is a noble profession, I’ve yet to see that really be the case in various International Schools. Sure the students are polite, but our parent bodies are made up of business men and woman, politicians and diplomats, entrepreneurs who appear to view teachers as little more than slightly higher paid servants with a cushy job. (all those holidays !)
Also, having worked in several countries in Asia over the last decade I cannot recall the number of times someone has told me that they might do a spot of teaching if their business does not work out or to supplement their income or pension. I’m sure that they mean well, but the implication is that teaching is not that hard, that anyone can do it, and that anyone doing it, well, must be doing it since they are unable to do anything else.
I read a blog that suggests the reason dates back to the middle ages;
“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.” source
However, no matter where it comes from the fact remains that it is a widespread thought today. I think we need to ask ourselves a question first, is it true ? Are teachers and educators failed writers, failed scientists, failed business leaders or politicians ? I know that I hope not, but perhaps some are. Maybe there is some truth to this quote of G.B.Shaw’s.
I recall back to my University days, I entered a four year Science Education degree, I recall, anecdotally, that more than half the students in that degree had entered it with the intention of transferring departments after their first year, as an alternate means of getting into a Bachelor of Science course at Melbourne University as their where unable to meet the initial entrance requirements, one fellow student expressed her surprise that I had been accepted into the full Science course, but had still chosen the B.Ed.Sci. course. So my peers back then were the students who were unable to get into the ‘proper’ Science course, they certainly were the “ones that could not, so taught”.
What of my colleagues now ? Nearly all the teachers I have worked with in the past or now are hard working, experienced and passionate teachers. The myth of the lazy, poorly educated teacher counting the hours till every payday is just that, a myth.
Sure, I know of some lazy or incompetent teachers, but there are lazy and incompetent business managers and lazy and incompetent engineers out there. Neither last long, and neither represent the rest of their professions.
Most teachers I know live the IB Learner profile characteristic of being life long learners. Most teachers I know, including myself have gone on to complete higher level degrees, Graduate Diplomas, Masters, Doctorates. Teaching, as with most professions is a profession that requires constant updating, constant reviews, constant professional development. Schools and teachers spend thousands of dollars every year on their own professional development.
So we need to change this mindset, show people that we are hardworking, professional educators, stop accepting the implied put down every time someone repeats the old chestnut about teaching. Because I for one am tired of being told that I am worth less than other people in other professions, that my career is just a safety net or back up plan, that I am one of the ones that cannot do !