Are teachers the proverbial sacrificial lamb?

Every profession has its ups and downs. Lawyers, for example, are generally respected and considered smart (or even feared) but considered crooked. The police wield authority, but with that comes the tendency to be avoided by the ordinary citizen. We all love doctors for what they do, but a trip to the doctor’s is hardly something we look forward to (due to the circumstances that surround such situations), and so on.
Sam Kebongo
Sam Kebongo

Every profession has its ups and downs. Lawyers, for example, are generally respected and considered smart (or even feared) but considered crooked. The police wield authority, but with that comes the tendency to be avoided by the ordinary citizen. We all love doctors for what they do, but a trip to the doctor’s is hardly something we look forward to (due to the circumstances that surround such situations), and so on.

Teachers, it seems, get way more flak than everyone else. Thus the catch phrase:  “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”. Simply put; this means that people with real practical skills are out doing constructive things, while those who can’t ‘cut’ it in the “real world” find a less demanding refuge in teaching. The doers of something do that thing for a living, while people who are not able to do anything that well make a living by teaching.

The origin of this phrase is attributed to George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Man and Superman’ where one of the characters Bob complains, “I’m so discouraged. My writing teacher told me my novel is hopeless:” The other character, Jane comforts him, “Don’t listen to her, Bob. Remember: those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”.

Naturally, every teacher finds this outrageous and some might even be protesting at this point. But that is not the point.

The truth of the matter is that the perception exists. Go to any school (where teachers direct customers are) and ask among the students who wants to be a teacher. More often than not, you will, to be generous, get less than 10%. But then, even the Bible says that no prophet is honoured at home. 

Are teachers non-performers? If so, how does this effect(s) the socio-economic development of the society?    How should we mitigate the negative effects?

In our part of the world there is some truth to the cliché. A lot of the lecturers have a background where one graduated from university, went on to get a master’s degree (and perhaps a doctorate), came back and taught. Our universities hardly seek or even consider practical knowledge when hiring one to lecture in a particular area. There in lies part of the problem. The knowledge tends, at best, to be historical.

The other part is with the doers. Take a typical Hotel or restaurant in Africa, a posh one. You will notice that everything, from the meals to the rooms will be predominantly western. It will look like the menu in any other western capital. Where is the creativity? What unique selling point does this restaurant have? What is distinctly Rwandan/ African about it? Did we not have our own foods that should have found their way into the menu, especially 50 years after independence)? This applies to all other professions.

The underlying question lies in the structure of our current socio-economic system. There is the specialisation of roles. While this is good, it sometimes tends to be overly defined.  Logically, an expert in tourism should teach tourism at university the same way doctors teach medicine.

You are only an expert if you can conceptualise and practice your trade. This means that you should have not only learnt and practiced your trade; but more importantly, you have the capacity to and indeed you, on  regular basis, bring in new ideas and thoughts that improve the trade; a teacher’s role. Else you are simply a technician.

The second and more tragic issue is that there is little interaction and sometimes even contact between the teachers and the doers. We organised a workshop on Musanze for a client the other day that would have brought in both doers and teachers among others in conservation. We partially succeeded in getting them together. We shared best practices and updated each other’s repertoire of experience. I left convinced that we need more of these.

We need to cooperate with and challenge each other from within before we seek external solutions. We need to stop being glorified technicians and historians in our respective professions. We need to recognise ourselves as birds of a feather and not distinct strangers so that we are on the same page and moving in the same direction.

While the jury is still out on whether doers or teachers are the experts, I reckon that those who understand do and teach!

Happy Easter!

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