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Betsy Angert: Those Who Can Teach; Transformative Teachers

Today I am sharing part two of a two-part essay contributed by educator Betsy Angert. Ms. Angert is a creative educator who taught Secondary School and University students. She also served to instruct and supervise future Educators in the Teacher Credentialing Program. She now hosts the web site Empathy and Education.

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In an earlier essay, Those Who Can Teach; Life Lessons Learned, thoughts on the ever-present influence of George Bernard Shaw's philosophy were evaluated. A personal reflection, perchance, helped advance an analogy. We each are as the Playwright was. When young, we learn through our experiences. Later, we are forever challenged to change our perception. Evolutions and beliefs born in emotionally trying times collide. Intellectually, we may understand, to learn our minds must be open. Nonetheless, endeavor as we might, most of us remain closed. Still, it is never too late. Greater awareness can come at anytime, in Elementary, Middle, High School or College. Let us assess anew as we look through the lens, life in school.

He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches
~ George Bernard Shaw [Man and Superman, 1903]

"A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education."
~ George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw's adage belies what was the Playwright's life. The Author, contrary to his own claim, taught and he did. Indeed, the Dramatist achieved success in each of these endeavors. In words and through deeds the Writer acted on what he avowed were opposite ambitions. His instruction influenced generations. More than a century after his utterance children are trained to believe as he professed true. Several ignore the veracity; Shaw's prolific plays proved that he could successfully and professionally practice in a field as well as serve as the exemplary Educator he was, and is. Regardless of the misguided reality today crowds continue to chant, "He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches."

As evidence of this collective less than reflective conviction Americans might merely look at the headlines. Are Teachers Under Attack? G.O.P. Governors Take Aim at Teacher Tenure. Public Workers Face Outrage as Budget Crises Grow. Education under Attack: Violence against Students, Teachers and Schools in Armed Conflicts. Teachers are forever being questioned. Students receive much wrath. Schools are vilified. Yet few consider why these criticisms might be.

Instead, we repeat the rhetoric and share our own stories. I have my memories. Countless tales could have led me to perceive Professors as, George Bernard Shaw did and society does. Instead, I acknowledged that what, for me, felt good or bad was a blessing. Persons whose pedagogical practices would never be mine, taught me how, or how not to teach. I offer tales of two Teachers. Enter Doctor Mac and Miss Z.

I think of my first computer class. Doctor Mac, a glorious geek who could build a central processing unit [CPU] with ease. However, to edify the technologically illiterate such as I was . . . Well that is another story for another day. I am aware that many thought Doctor Mac was the preferred Professor. For someone as infinitely analytical as I, his more superficial treatment of the subject did not work well for me. This magnificent master is one of many who were unable to reach me. Quite the contrary was true. His methods and instruction left me feeling lost. I was more than frustrated. I was frightened. I so yearned to learn!

This thought brings Miss Z to mind. I had been beyond proficient in Math all of my life until this wiz with numbers became my Teacher. The jocks loved Miss Z and she was fond of them. In class, the Educator and the athletes discussed how their respective teams did. Scores. Stats. "Sports" was a constant topic of conversation. Proofs, sometimes. Some Math problems were shared on the board or on displayed by the light of an overhead projector. I was an A+ Math student. Yet, under the tutelage of Miss Z, nothing made sense to me.

Before, during, and after class, I asked for further instruction. I sought other sources, my parents, another Professor, and even Miss Z herself. My Mom and Dad tried to assist to no avail. Their skills in math lacked luster. The other Teacher said unless I was enrolled in her class . . . Oh, how my family and I tried to make that dream come true. Miss Z? Well, she only knew how to teach in the way she always had. Her manner was incompatible with my learning style. I would stand at her side, look on and listen. Ultimately, each time, I left her presence in tears.

Thankfully, Teachers such as Doctor Mac and Miss Z were the exception in my life. Most Instructors I met once enrolled in an educational institution were glorious. On occasion, outside of school, and not only in my childhood home, I was confronted with what also might have shaded my reality. Perchance, you can relate.

I discovered that a stupendous Teacher can also be a disastrous one, dependent on the lesson. A phenomenal practitioner can be less than fully effective. Eric had been an exceptional Teacher in my life.. The man who was my beau was also an excellent driver. I trust he still is. Eric learned to use a manual transmission early in his own hours on the road. By the time we were together he was a pro. Eric could shift gears flawlessly. He did not bump or grind, nay pop a clutch. This lovely man is in addition a patient professor. Cheerfully, he chose to teach me. Eric Smythe would move me from automatic to stick shifts, or so he and I believed.

I imagined he would be, as in every other avenue we traveled together, a fine facilitator. However, this turned out not to be true. The loving man was thorough in his "lessons." Too thorough for me! I felt as if he believed he needed to teach me to steer, turn, and travel the roadways as though I had not done this for years.

I, who received an A+ grade in Drivers Education, was treated as a neophyte. While Eric was patient with me, the young Mister Smythe drove me bonkers. He, too carefully, crafted his lesson.

Eric could do and teach. Nonetheless, this combination was not enough. Trained Teachers take the art and science of instruction seriously. Professors understand the gravity of their performance. Expert Educators never forget that what a Teacher imparts influences more than a single person. His or her words and deeds will likely affect generations, perchance all of humanity. Notes from former and present pupils remind a Teacher at most every turn. Often a glance from a frustrated student, from one fond of learning, or a gaze off into space during a lecture, tells a tutor in the immediate that every moment matters.

Unlike George Bernard Shaw, I often say, "Those who can, Teach!" Education is an art and science. More than hand-eye coordination is required. Task analysis too is not enough to teach. Facts, formulas, and figures do not offer focus. Fellowship must follow. An instructor is not as a friend, whom students engage with for fun. He or she, when devoted to excellence in education, is so much more.

We learn from words. Actions too deliver a message. Communications and contact inform us. When an Author writes, a Performer presents, a relative rants, rages, or roars with laughter, he/she advances awareness. The intended quality of the instruction does not determine whether a lesson is learned. Care and compassion count.

The mind is no match with the heart in persuasion; constitutionally is no match for compassion.
~ Everett M. Dirksen [Senate Minority Leader 1959 ~ 1969]

We all have had poor Teachers. Some are known as Parents others Peers. Even progeny and Playwrights offer instruction. What separates Teachers from the rest of these Educators is a philosophical preference, awareness for what George Bernard Shaw and society-at large misses.

Several sage scholars have devoted a lifetime of study to pedagogy, patience, and principles that further empathy through education. These persons practice profound theories that others do not feel they have time let alone tolerance to pursue.

Educators have lived, learned, and to this day understand, our experience of Teachers is unique. What is dreadful for one student is delightful for another, Instructors dare to challenge the myth that lives large in our lexicon. They brave a collective consciousness and verve that states Shaw's statements are wise. The thought Teachers cannot do, while our standard, is flawed. A deeper reflection reveals the dynamism that is on display daily.

Perhaps, as a nation we might ponder the damage done when Parents, policymakers, and pundits posit; Educators are know-nothing, do-nothing. less than motivated individuals. Might we consider how the theme discourages children, let alone Educators? A young mind could easily question why should I go to school only to sit with a failure?

Could it be that toddlers and tots are wounded when in a desire to criticize, Moms and Dads mention the maxim in regards to an Instructor. Might we as a society have given birth to many a self-fulfilling prophecy and a generation of students at risk?

Might we embrace careers in education and those who take on the identity of Teacher.

If we had, imagine what society could have been. Instead of a culture that adopts evidentiary erroneous beliefs as our truth, or a country commonly known as a dropout nation, we might have given rise to students who soar.

Possibly, beginning today we will agree, each of us had mentors who were accomplished in their field. We had and have excellent Educators. Most of us also had more than our fair share of miserable mentors. "He who can, did, does; and teaches." Indeed, we are all great Teachers to someone. We have no choice; we can do nothing else. For as living, breathing beings, we constantly engage and exchange. We share ideas and inspire others. That by definition is education.

References and Resources . .
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Photograph used with permission. Copyright © Bob George



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