Those Who Can, Don’t Teach!

I haven’t actually heard anyone say recently, “Those who can’t, teach,” but the sentiment appears to be alive and well in our society.  To this sentiment, I think that I can also add the admonition, “Those who can, don’t teach!” as in, if you are successful, don’t bother thinking about entering the profession of teaching because it isn’t worth your time and frustration.  “You are worth more than teaching.”

Let me state outright that I don’t hold with this new, apparent attitude.  I have, instead, been on the receiving end of that last bit of advice, as I navigated the career change from electrical engineering to high school teaching.  I was reminded of this disheartening advice from a friend by comments posted on a recent article in the Washington Post, Why an army colonel is retiring early — to become a high school teacher.  One comment in particular, by a former middle school and high school teacher, nonetheless, really irked me.  Jop57 writes, “Might I suggest coaching at the local high school and taking an adjunct teaching job at a nearby community college. This way, youbcan [sic] still connect to the youth in a [sic] environment in which they will listen and at the college level your wealth of experience and leadership will be appreciated. You seem like a wise man…a word to the wise is sufficient.”

I agree that teaching high school students is difficult, and they are often unmotivated, but isn’t it the teacher’s job to motivate them?  I am not always successful at this, and I am often dissatisfied with the results, but I believe that it is my job to help my students become motivated, and when necessary, to act for systemic change that provides my students with a more meaningful (and useful) experience.  It is appropriate to warn someone thinking about the teaching profession that it is hard, frustrating work, and that students today may not be like what one remembers of students in the past.  However, how can a teacher warn someone that they don’t even know to avoid teaching at the K-12 level because they have the skills to do something better.

Have we as a society abdicated our role of teaching our youth?  Have we concluded that Those who can’t, teach is not only the real truth, but even our preference?  Have we given up on today’s youth altogether and decided to ride out the collapse of our nation until we ourselves die and don’t have to worry about them anymore?

If Jop57 truly believes that the best way to connect to youth is through teaching at the college level and coaching, then I am glad that he or she is no longer teaching middle school or high school, because it appears that this profession is not the right place for them.  However, we as a society must stop advising the best and brightest among us to avoid teaching because we think they are worth more than that.  These are the people that our youth need.  They are the ones with the intelligence and skills to turn around our schools, or perhaps more correctly, to right the course of our society, of which schools are a part and in which they are floundering.  Kudos to Colonel Yingling for his courageous decision to leave his safe position and large salary in order to enter the uncertain and less lucrative — financially, but not emotionally — world of K-12 education.

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