In the next week or so I have a meeting. Normally, I like meetings. I like working collaboratively and like that most meetings have a goal-there is something to be done; a goal or idea to be furthered; a plan to set into motion. When I lived in Topeka, I joked I was the professional meeting goer of our organization. It was not uncommon for me to attend 3-4 meetings a day--my record was 17 meetings in one week.
I usually like meetings, but this one, not so much.
One of the people at this meeting gets under my skin. They are condescending and have been vocal in their dismissal of me and what I do for a living. They like to make 'jokes'--except jokes are funny and and positive supposed to be moments which build up a community or a group. Its funny, I have dealt with parents and colleagues and even family members who act this way and its normally water off a ducks back. Its not even that I really look up to this person; I don't. I've never been sure why this person has the affect they do but ... (cue up vintage Dr. Freud footage at this point).
In my brain, during this meeting, this person will speak derisively of the occupation I love.
In my brain, during this meeting, this person will same something along the lines of:
Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.
I hate that phrase. Its too simplistic and its not true. Well, it is true sometimes, but the majority of teachers are not endemic of this motto. I hate being lumped in one group or another. Its usually negative and almost always harmful to any serious conversation that needs to be had.
So in preparation of the meeting, I have thinking about that phrase. Since my blog is the place I dump my thoughts...
The phrase: 'Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach.' can be traced to writer H.L.Menken and, before that, George Bernard Shaw, both in the early and mid 20th Century. Shaw wrote a variation of it in Man and Superman (1903) and I think Mencken cribbed it from Shaw.
Why is peeves me: To be honest, I think part of it is that I've seen this axiom be true more that I'd like to admit. Think of the Paul Giamatti character in Sideways or the Allison Janney character in Ten Things I Hate About You or any number of characters on TV today. I haven't seen the movie Bad Teacher and I won't--even though I'm sure at the end Ms. Diaz has a revelation about the career and became the model of model-teacher. Its easy to blame culture for the stereotype, but my profession has people who spend more than their fair share of time and ink and bandwidth complaining about everyone else, rather than acknowledging that there are teachers out there who suck. I'm thinking of the school districts who move around or warehouse bad teachers because the teachers have tenure or connections to the local education association. An interesting movie to watch on the subject is Waiting for Superman. (I talked about the movie in a previous blog post.)
How I might respond:
Possibility Number One: I say nothing. It might be the best option but feels like a cop-out. Ignore and I risk them thinking I agree or even accept the premise. I don't on either count but the best way for a fish to get hooked it to take the bait.
Possibility Number Two: Go all "Taylor Mali" on them. You remember poet Taylor Mali? He is a teacher and a slam poet and here is how I envision my response would be:
While that might feel good, those are Taylor's words and not mine. I have similar stories but Mali's line about Honesty and Asskickings isn't really me. I don't know I could be that confrontational. I also have always struggled with the Mali piece because it feels defensive to me. By even accepting the premise, it feels backed into the corner. I don't think it feels that way to Mali, but I feel that way listening to it, brilliant as it is.
Possibility Number Three: Go Socratic on them. "Wow, that is a strong statement. What makes you say that?" "Do you think all teachers are 'non-doers'?" "What do you think makes a good teacher?" "How would you change the education system to encourage good teaching versus the non-doing place holding you feel is rampant?" Now, normally this would be my go-to position. I like dialogue and I like a healthy give and take...from people whose ideas I am interested in and I generally respect. Strikes on both of those counts.
I'm sure there are other possibilities and I would take them in the comments below. The Quaker phrase I have used over and over again on this blog, "Speak only when you can improve upon the silence" is what my brain is saying at this point. The wisest person I know, my wife (it is true-with the exception partner choice) would counsel me to go with Option One, do not engage. Don't accept the premise...Don't engage ...Don't... The challenge is, I usually only see her wisdom in hindsight.
I'll let you know how it goes.