We have George Bernard Shaw to thank for the stinging words most people who have chosen teaching as their profession will have had to get defensive about at some point or another – the dreaded maxim “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”; and although it’s not clear whether the man himself believed this, or whether these were merely the words of the character in the play, Maxims for Revolutionaries, by God, they’re irksome. Whichever it is – thanks for nothing, George!
And if I ever get my hands on the bright spark who said, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; and those who can’t teach, get a TEFL certificate”, I’ll happily throttle him. The lesser known rebuttal, “Those who know, do; those who understand, teach”, usually attributed to Aristotle, but more probably coined by some unknown resentful teacher, sick to his back teeth of having his chosen profession constantly vilified, is, of course, more accurate. Well, I would say that; I’m a teacher, and an EFL teacher to boot.
Let’s just clear this up once and for all – teaching is hard. Really hard. You have to package your knowledge into understandable, attention-grabbing, memorable deliveries, and tailor those deliveries to your students’ ages and abilities, without ever taking your eye off the objectives set by a curriculum, and which may or may not be realistically applicable to the reality of your class.
Teaching students with whom you do not share a common language is really, really hard. And, yes, if you’re a native English speaker, you will ‘know English’, but you will not know the de-constructed version of it, composed of grammar, syntax, spelling, and sentence structure rules which are the very backbone of teaching English as a second language, since you were never taught your language that way. Add to the mix the fact that you’ll have to impart all those rules and explanations to people who, for the most part, do not understand much (sometimes not even one single word!) of what you are saying, and who, rather too often, have absolutely no desire to even be there.
If you’d given it a try, George – just one morning in a kindergarten in Turkey, a secondary school in Italy, or a technical college in the Gulf – just one morning – and you just might have wanted to eat your words!