What I Know About Teaching

Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.

Those words were written by George Bernard Shaw in the early 1900’s. Aside from being a socialist, my guess is Mr. Shaw never sat in a classroom as a teacher. If he did, he may not have written something so disparaging and ignorant.

I’m not a teacher, though I have family members who are. However, in my second, semi-retired life, I have begun to do some substitute teaching, which, again, is not teaching. But I love kids and thought this might be fun. So what I know about actually working the profession can probably be placed inside a thimble.
I’ve heard countless stories over the years about parents and students. I’ve read comments made by elected officials who are so superficially clueless that it defies logic. I’ve sat in meetings with business leaders who have used this quote to drive home a point, insult the profession or attempt to stroke their own overinflated egos. This quote makes the rounds at parties, in boardrooms and homes. Sadly, it’s made by individuals who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Why? Because they’ve never sat in a classroom and unless you’ve done that, you can’t possibly understand.

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You want to make the argument that teachers have two months off in the summer and another couple of weeks off during the school year? That’s true, though I know more teachers who work during the summer than sit at the beach, which is the general perception. The reason? They need to supplement their incomes by teaching summer classes, tutoring, coaching, doing clinics, working in retail, landscaping, or any other number of odd jobs.
Yes, they have a pension, if the system is still there when they choose to retire. But so do almost all government workers. You resent that? You should have chosen differently and not chased the dollar you knew you wouldn’t earn by teaching.
Short work day? You see, that’s where part of the ignorance comes in. Many teachers start at 7 or 8:00 and are there until 5 or 6:00 and then take work home with them. It’s also not unusual for work to be done on weekends or to receive calls from parents after hours. I see them come in each morning and leave each day. Their arms are filled with work.

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I’ve seen teachers sit in a classroom with children who have autism and hold them until they calmed down; gently speaking with them, as if they were their own child.

I’ve seen teachers make themselves look silly in order to make a student laugh or feel better about themselves.

I’ve seen teachers make sure a child who is living in a hotel room with nine other people, care about how they might learn in that type of environment and then provide those students, on their own time, with the extra attention and help they need.

I’ve seen teachers take money out of their own pockets to buy a child a pair of sneakers or provide snacks or lunch during the day for those whose parents didn’t send any.

I’ve seen teachers shave their heads, along with their students, in order to raise money and awareness for cancer.

I’ve seen teachers try to work with a system that is intent on working against providing students the best possible opportunity to learn.

I’ve seen teachers work with students whose parents refuse to provide their child with prescribed medications, creating a difficult environment for an entire classroom.

I’ve seen teachers attempt to reason with parents who refuse to acknowledge hurtful or bullying behavior by their own child.

I’ve seen teachers understand and work with a children whose home life might be fractured and might need an outlet to express their frustrations.

Parents in prison in wealthy school districts, family illnesses, time dedicated to after school clubs, parents who are in denial about their child…the list goes on.

So you all want a piece of this…times twenty in each classroom?

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Are there bad teachers? You bet. You want me to list the number of criminals in the business profession? Or any profession for that matter? Come on, lets not go there.

I’ve come to understand this one point, in the short time I’ve been a substitute. Teachers don’t teach because they want summers off or have a pension. And they certainly don’t teach for the money. It’s not that great. They chose this profession because they love kids. Your kids. It’s the only way they can do this job. You have to love kids.

So instead of giving them a hard time or making a derogatory remark, try to understand and see beyond whatever distorted perceptions are out there. I worked in the business world a long time and I understand why people want to teach.

It’s much more rewarding teaching children than working with adults who act like children.

The other day I was teaching a fourth grade PE class when a group of 4-5 girls walked up to me. I’ve been a substitute in their class several times in the past six months. Anyway, they were all giggling and then one of them asked if they could buy me. After I stopped laughing, I asked what they thought I was worth. They looked at each other for a moment, and then one of them said…priceless?

That’s when I knew I should have been a teacher.

20 thoughts on “What I Know About Teaching

  1. The Ranting Monkey

    Shaw may have meant it to be disparing but I find a truth in it for myself. There are many things I can tell someone how to accomplish that I can’t do myself. I understand and can explain the concepts even though I cannot do them myself.

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  2. A.PROMPTreply

    Well said, George. I totally agree. And let’s not forget the teachers that protect as well…..Sandy Hook comes to mind. These teachers are truly people that care about kids. No doubt about it.

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    1. George Post author

      You’re right. How can we forget the number of teachers at Sandy Hook and other schools who have sacrificed or put their lives in danger to protect our children. Thank you.

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  3. Mindy

    I don’t know how people teach, I know I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I think back to some of the people in my classes, and my teachers were amazing because I would have completely lost my patience. I think teacher’s definitely don’t get enough credit or pay. It’s an honorable profession. Good for you for taking on substitute teaching! 🙂

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  4. abyssbrain

    I actually respect Shaw’s writing skill but this is one of the things that he wrote that is just a bunch of BS. I am very appalled with the general disrespect and mockery the teaching profession recieve in general. I always hear people saying that since their child is not bright enough, then he should just become a teacher. It’s like saying that any fool can become a teacher. I admit that I had a number of incompetent teachers before, but this exists in ANY profession. If you want to talk about incompetence, just look at the government and the banking industry and you will find a lot of it.

    They have to consider that teachers helped to develop and teach all of the best engineers, doctors, scientists, thinkers, writers, etc. So, we have to be grateful with them, since without their guidance, what would have happened to those people… and to us as well. Heck, even from the “incompetent” teachers, I have to admit that I have also learned from them.

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  5. joylovestravel

    Well said George, teaching is an under-rated and under-appreciated profession. I have done voluntary work in an inner city school with struggling kids – I wish I had chosen that career path! A great teacher is a great inspiration – there are many of them.

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  6. vanbytheriver

    Oh, George, how I love this post ! You had me at the Shaw quote. I trained as a teacher, left it and came back from time to time. But this I’ll share… I was hit with that quote at a luncheon where I was introduced to the Chief Administrator of a hospital where I’d just been hired.(Human Resources) It was mentioned that I was a former teacher, to which he responded with the Shaw quote. I snapped back….”Those who can’t do, teach…but it goes further…those who can’t teach, administrate”. Somehow, I kept my job, and had a new- found respect from the man who hired me. ☺ Van

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    1. George Post author

      Good for you, Van. That quote seems to be thrown around much too often in a very disparaging way by people who have never experienced a classroom. I’m glad you kept your job and gained his respect. We also have HR in common since I did that for too many years…:) Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  7. authormbeyer

    I am retired now and missing teaching terribly. Some of my kids still keep in touch on Facebook, and I still email some of my old teacher friends. But your post made me cry again… I am not even well enough to go back and substitute. Teaching is physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining, especially now when so many government officials think you can better spend public money on privatization of education and cut out extras like art class and music class and popular electives (as well as decent health insurance). There are some spectacularly bad teachers out there now because people don’t want to pay a decent wage for good ones, and it helps drive home how Shaw missed the mark. It should read, “Those who can’t do, can’t teach… and those who can’t teach certainly shouldn’t.”

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