Those who can, do.

15 09 2008

There’s a common saying out there that I’ve heard a lot. It goes “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” First of all, I’m entirely unsure if the commas I wrote in that statement are appropriately placed and it’s far too difficult to write, so I already don’t like it. Even before I had to type it, I didn’t really agree with it. I’ve been teaching for a couple of years now and I can honestly say that if I wanted to, I could… but I choose to teach anyway.

I can understand where this statement comes from. Many people enter our misguided college education system and come out with a degree in English, math, philosophy, communication, marketing, etc etc and I would guess that at least half have absolutely no practical plan for employment in their major field when they get out. Unless you’re pre-med, pre-law, or some other field that is extremely geared towards one specific profession, your options are wide enough and you’re young enough at the time of graduation, that it’s very easy to be missing that necessary sense of direction towards a career. These people then decide that if they don’t have anything else to use their degree for, they’ll teach it. So, as the phrase alludes, these people can’t do something practical with their major, so they teach.

The problem with this idea is that many (not all, but many) should have never gotten into teaching in the first place. These people choose English or math or science and then fall back on teaching when they need to start making some money. In my opinion, you have to love the art of teaching and really believe in what you’re doing more so then what subject you’re teaching. I’ve told some of my students that I’d teach them Latin if the wanted to know Latin. (I know nothing about Latin)  There really is a difference between a teacher who loves history and wants to convey that and a teacher that loves teaching. I think that longevity of the individual in the profession comes from this distinction.

Let me stress that I’ve worked with many people who probably took this path and are effective teachers. I do, sometimes, wonder if some really love what they do or if they’re just launching their 5 year plan towards something else. (as in “I’ll teach until my Ebay business takes off)  Some might have come in through this path and have realized that they love teaching as much as their subject specialty. I don’t really ask about that kind of stuff.

I just wish more teachers would realize that if you enter this kind of profession that it’s a service job. It requires sacrifice and a lot of hard work. You won’t be recognized or paid well and you’ll be blamed when things go wrong.  You’re going to do a lot of hours of work that no one sees or acknowledges. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “You work from 8:00am to 2:30pm and get two months off in the summer. I wish I had your job.” To that I answer, Ha! and leave it at that.

If you want to be successful and happy working as a teacher, you have to really love what you do. I’m convinced of this.  You have to take your payment in having old students come back and beg you to teach them again. You have to acknowledge that if you take a moment to be lazy, your students suffer much longer because you wanted to watch “My Name is Earl.” (That puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?) Granted, you need to balance your work and your home life and part of the art of teaching is being both effective and efficient so that you can get that. In the end, however, it’s about the 30 kids that sit in front of you for 45 minutes every day. If you half-ass it, you’re messing with their future.

It makes me happy every day when old student actually try to sneak into my classes. My thanks doesn’t necessarily come in words but in seeing a student a year later and knowing that if I didn’t fight them for a year to help them mature, that they wouldn’t have made it to where they are.  If your payment must be in dollars and not in personal gratification, see the currency exchange window on your way to Wall Street.  (The exchange rate is extremely low)

There’s another saying out there that I’ve quoted here before: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s what should be running through your head if you’re teaching. The moment you think you’re going to work, you should leave and never come back. I haven’t worked a day in the past 2 years.

So let’s amend that first statement to be accurate: “Those can, do. Those who can’t, try to teach for two years and then quit. Those who stick around, see line 1.”

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