|Those who can, do. Those who cant, teach.
Nothing infuriates us teachers more than this saying.
The standard response to this slur on teaching was best put by Keynes
who said "The ideas of economists and political philosophers
powerful than is commonly understood
Practical men, who believe
themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are
usually the slaves of some defunct economist." Keynes remark takes on
even more force if we think about the impact on our world of teachers of
philosophy, such as Plato and Aristotle, of science such as Newton,
Darwin and Einstein, and especially, of religion. No one has influenced
our world more than Moses and Jesus, who were teachers above all.
Modern politics is shaped by great teachers, too. Our principles of
freedom and democracy were in large part the work of a teacher named
John Locke, who is the Dallas Cowboys of political philosophy. His ideas
so influenced the way we live today that he can rightly be called
America's philosopher. The greatest threat to our principles, the Soviet
Union, was also inspired by the work of a teacher, Karl Marx.
That great teachers and teachings shaped our way of life deserves
more attention. But let me suggest another reason to honor teaching and
teachers. In the contemporary economy, it is brains more than brawn and
teamwork more than individual activity, that makes for productivity. It
takes the skills of a great teacher to inspire the cooperative activity
that leads to success in all spheres of life.
Is that a strange claim? Well, look at what makes for a great
First, love of learning. No one can be a great teacher without
enthusiasm for continually learning about the world around them.
Second, teachers synthesize what they have learned. Great teachers
focus our attention on what is central and put everything in its proper
Third, great teachers explain what they know with clarity and
patience, not to mention, again and again. The art of teaching is the
ability to say the same thing six different ways and with seven
different examples. Teachers must be able to fit their arguments and
examples to what their students know and want to know.
We think of teachers as talkers. But, fourth, great teachers are
great listeners. Only by listening to their students can teachers learn
how to give them what they need.
How do these skills make themselves felt outside the classroom?
Consider an example of the two real estate agents my wife and I dealt
with when we sold a house in Hillsborough and bought one in Charlotte
four years ago.
The agent who sold our houseshe will remain namelesshad none of the
skills of a teacher. She never slowed down enough to hear what we were
telling her, even after we tried to correct a problem again and again.
She could not explain her plans to us. She gave us disjointed pieces of
information, without context or priority. And her knowledge, of not just
her business, seemed frozen in time. We did eventually sell our house,
but only by bypassing our agent and dealing with the buyer and his agent
In Charlotte, things were different. I have no qualms about naming
our real estate agent, Larry Deal. He was a superior agent because he
possessed the skills of a great teacher. Not only did Larry listen to us
but he helped us find the words to tell him what we wanted. We thus
wasted little time looking at houses far from our ideal. Larrys
explanations of the real estate market and the process of buying a house
enabled us to make informed decisions that saved us money and time. He
gave us a great deal of information, put together in an understandable
way. And his enthusiasm for learningabout us and our needs or about a
house and its problemshelped us over many a stumbling block.
What is true in real estate is true in business, in medicine, in law
and elsewhere. Those who best serve their customers or patients or
clients are those who can listen, can explain, can synthesize and can
learn. The skills of a great teacher are needed both by those leading
large organizations and by those on the front lines. So perhaps it is
time for a new aphorism, one that better fits the important role of
teachers and teaching in our contemporary way of life. My suggestion is:
Those who can teach, can do.