For the week of August 11, 2012 / 23 Av 5772
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 - 51:3


Those Who Can, Teach

The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. (Isaiah 50:4; ESV)

Have you ever heard the adage, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach"? The idea behind this saying is that the reason why teachers teach is because they have no legitimate practical skills, leaving teaching as their only life option. This also implies that when it comes right down to it, teachers don't really know what they are talking about, since they can't really do anything truly worthwhile.

My guess is that most people disagree with this sentiment, at least superficially. Yet, I wonder how much we value teachers. Do we recognize teaching as productive in the same way we do other jobs or activities? Or do we think of teachers as people who, if they had the chance, would most certainly do something else? It's similar to coaching in sports. Wouldn't they be competing instead of coaching if they could?

The legitimacy of the teaching role has to do with the way God designed the human community. Whether it is parents, guardians, school teachers, religious teachers, trainers, or coaches, we have a need to learn from others. We need the information, training, and correction that only people gifted in teaching can give. After all, God himself is the Master Teacher and we his students. He has chosen to use human instruments to instruct us in life.

Now, just because someone is in the role of teacher doesn't make them a good teacher. There may be those who after suffering various difficulties in certain activities find themselves being teachers as a last resort. This is regrettable, because it takes a particular type of skill set to be a true teacher. Actually, a good teacher is someone who not only possesses real teaching ability, but is also experienced in the things they teach. While being an expert in something doesn't make someone a teacher, the best teachers are usually gifted teachers who are experts in something.

One reason why we might have difficulty in fully appreciating teachers is that they are more like a bridge than a destination. No matter how impressive a bridge might be, we tend to value destinations more than the bridges that helped get us there. Yet without well-designed bridges we would not be able to reach our desired destination. So too teachers help us get to where we need to go when we otherwise would not be able to get there. What then is more valuable, the destination or the bridge that helps get us there? The answer is both in their own way. So let's not devalue teachers. We would be stuck without them.

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