We’re All Teachers

“What we have here, is a failure… to communicate.”

Strother Martin as the prison warden in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.”


I’ve always had this unwavering respect for teachers.  I think those that accept the challenge of dispensing lessons and information to the masses have a unique calling and right or wrong, I’ve always looked to them to be the ultimate “keepers of the keys.” But, as with any profession, there are those who are not as fully dedicated as others. It’s hard for me to accept that with teachers though because they always walked on such hallowed ground.


Looking back, however, I recall this one pet peeve from when I was a student and I think in retrospect, it is the kind of thing that separates the good teachers from the merely adequate. I noticed that it started in elementary school, lasted through college and I even found it still breathing when I was a graduate student in the 1990s. It was this sort of “confessed incompetence” of professors and teachers that read like a therapy session; sort of an acknowledgement that says, “Hey, if I tell you up front where I lack, then you won’t expect too much and I won’t have to perform at a high level.”

I’ll give you a couple examples.

The professor is writing on the chalkboard and is listing bullet points under the heading “Things to Remember for the Test.” As he writes and the class takes notes he says, “Now don’t mind my spelling – I’m no English teacher.”

I’ve heard this more than a few times. Maybe he’s not an English teacher, but he is a teacher and should have at least a competent set of spelling skills right? I mean would your dentist tell you he’s not great at doing fillings but he cleans teeth real well?

Another version is a non-mathematical teacher using numbers and saying, “Now don’t hold me to the accuracy of that figure – I’m no good with numbers.”

Huh? You’re a teacher. This is a basic skill set you need to master, no?

See, I happen to believe that a teacher should be well-versed in the things that are elementary to education. You shouldn’t be allowed to not be at least competent at a related field in education. You can confess that you have to go slow to be sure you are right or something but you shouldn’t get the free pass that says “this isn’t my specialty so I am allowed to be no good at it – as long as I admit it.”

Would any of us get away with only doing the fun or easy parts of our jobs? I don’t think so.

BOSS: “Did you finish the report, Ron?”

ME: “Well I have all the information but I hate typing so can we just talk about it? I’m no secretary you know.”

Yeah right.

Here’s another version of that same “FAIL.”

The classroom discussion is lively and the prof heads to the chalkboard. He begins to craft a diagram or some sort of illustration to underscore his point and as he draws on the board he says, “Now don’t blame me if this isn’t clear – I’m no artist.”

For me, I lose all the enthusiasm right there. See, if this lecture has gotten passionate and this discussion is at full steam NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE QUALITY of your drawings – they just want to keep the debate alive. Now you’ve killed all the energy in the room and made it about you. If we’re all deeply and passionately involved in the discussion you can draw stick figures and keep it going for Pete’s sake – no one is judging you – they are waiting to be informed and enlightened and CHALLENGED by you. It is the job and it must be done completely.

The guy that climbed the pole in the storm to return our electrical power made the choice to do that job so he takes risks. The cop that is checking a warehouse property late at night and sees an open door doesn’t want to get ambushed or shot but he has to investigate why that door was left unlocked. He pulls his flashlight, calls for back-up and begins to look into it.

So where am I going with this?

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