Those who can do, those who can’t teach.

Charlene has been a teacher for over thirty years.  She did not hear this proverb until later in her career.  It has a very negative connotation and is very offensive to teachers.  It would never be said from one teacher to another, it is usually used by someone who wants to say that they are better than another person because the other person is a teacher.

This is a piece of occupational folklore, but not in the sense that it is passed between teachers, but because it is about teachers, and most of them have heard it at some point.  I have never fully understood this proverb because the people who use it got where they are by learning from teachers.

The first phrase, those who can do, is a very blanket statement that is not always true.  Many people are capable of things they just choose not to do them.  If you look at the statement in terms of the proverb, it is saying those that are capable of something do it, implying that teachers are not capable of doing whatever “it” is.  The first idea that comes to mind when I hear this is an injured person.  For example, if a person works construction gets hurt and can no longer to their job, they can still be involved in what they know by teaching others how to do it.  The fact that a person is trying to help and educate others should not be a bad thing, especially if the person is no longer capable of performing the task themselves.

The net part of the proverb has even more problems, those who can’t teach.  The basic premise of a teacher is a person who is highly skilled or knowledgeable in their field, so much so that they are able to teach others about it.  Wouldn’t this imply that teachers are even more capable than other people? The times when I have heard this proverb used, it was said by very successful people.  I simply do not understand why people would put down the people who are responsible for their success.

Even though this proverb is negative, it is occupational folklore and can work to unite teachers.  People usually identify more with one another and become closer when they are fighting against something negative rather than sharing something positive.

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