“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”

source of photograph
“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 !

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About Pak Liam

Living, teaching and traveling in Asia.
This entry was posted in Best Practise, Pedagogy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”

  1. Counsel Dew says:

    This phrase is used, often, by those in business, in military service (especially in the SEAL teams and in the Marines), and in other professions.

    However, this quote by Shaw, God rest his non-rational soul for this quote, is … nonsensical.

    Let us look at what it says…

    1. Those that do, do.
    2. Those that can not do, teach.

    How many people do without learning how to do? Sure, Einstein thought lots after dropping out of school early–yet…he didn’t do most of his mathematical work. Did you know that?

    Members of the Marines and the SEAL teams seem to use this statement often. Yet, the instructors (i.e., teachers) in those programs were those that did or not? Just asking…

    Few “do” without being taught to do. In fact, even members of the Marines and SEAL teams have to admit they received a lot of education and training to prepare them to do the job they do very well. Yet they spout this phrase out to … why exactly? Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up…

    People like to feel good about themselves. I want to feel good about myself. You want to feel good about yourself. Yet, what makes you and I feel good? Do we need adulation? Do we just need to “know” the truth? In truth, most people need public recognition of their deeds/thoughts in order to feel good about themselves-likely a result of upbringing.

    Why would it bother a physician if a waiter said they were in Medical School when, in fact, they were not in school at all? Why would it bother a member of our armed services if someone was bragging about being “in the military?”

    Many people feel a need to feel good about themselves and, to do so, must be part of “this special group.”

    You pass that crazy person in NYC–the one with the sign saying everyone else is a sinner, a liar, and a terrible person. The crazy guy who says we are all dying at midnight when God comes calling. I bet NONE of you feel any twinge of being upset or insulted. Yet, a “normal-looking” person says you are an idiot, a weakling, and a (insert your insult here), you feel insulted? You feel your “honor” being questioned. You feel like you … must … respond!

    If you feel that way, you need to work on being a better man, woman, hermaphrodite, homosexual, heterosexual, white guy, black girl, hispanic man, … Why? If you get upset because someone says something, you have NO control over your emotional state–you are letting someone you don’t even know (who might be crazy for all you know) dictate your emotional state. Why can’t you just say, “I am …” white, black, gay, homosexual, …? What does it matter? It isn’t as if being those things is wrong just because some uneducated person so thinks. By responding to the accusation, you are feeding right into their definition of what you “are.”

    Back to the quote…

    Teachers do. They teach so that others may do. If I may be so bold, many who can do, can’t teach. What does it say if you learned from those teachers? What if you took what you learned and went out and did? What if you learned, did, and succeeded? What makes you think you are better than they? Perhaps they are more comfortable not needing the trappings of “success” to define themselves. Perhaps they can do but you want to feel … “better.”

    The quote makes no sense. If the Teachers could not do, they would not be teaching everyone else how to do… Perhaps it is the students who want to feel like they have surpassed their teacher. Do you actually think you are SO special that you can do something you were taught to do but that the person who taught you to do that think can’t do that think? If so, how did they teach you to do (insert your “do” here)?

    Perhaps it is that teachers reason and use logic to analyze issues and problems. Perhaps it is that students who “do” simply can’t comprehend why the teacher teaches… Who is “missing” something?

    I am not a teacher. I am doing, but, in doing, I teach. If you don’t, what is wrong with you? If you do and don’t think you teach while doing, stop and think about it… Still don’t think so? Go think some more. Think of the times you “did” and “did” with others, members of your team, and had to explain things–you were teaching.

    Shaw … of all people … Perhaps we can chalk it up to … sarcasm?

  2. Pak Liam says:

    “If I may be so bold, many who can do, can’t teach. ”

    You may, I like it, I like it a lot. In fact, a well used pedagogical tool is to require students to explain or verbalise their understanding to another student, essentially to teach another student. There’s nothing like trying to teach or explain a concept for finding out how well you know and understand said concept in the first place.

  3. Dila says:

    Dear Pak Liam,

    This is a very helpful blog for me. I will be reading it to look for more information about MYP and PYP as well as general education from time to time, as Chevy’s brother and sister are attending MYP and PYP in a different school (an IB bilingual school) in Pondok Labu area, Jakarta.

    Thank you very much for reading my blog too, though it has been neglected for some time.

    (Dila)

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