For a long time I, like I believe many people, took this to mean that those that were good at doing something did just that, they got on and did it. Those that could not do it made their way by teaching it. It conveyed a sense that those that were teaching were in some way deficient in skill and/or knowledge.
Now of course there are people who claim to be teachers of various subjects who should not be teachers, who have neither real skill nor real ability to improve others. However there are many good teachers who themselves are not at the top the game in their chosen field.
Over time and the more I have taught and watched others teach and learn and read and researched, my opinion of this of old piece of advice has changed.
The skills of doing and teaching how to do are different things, they require different skill sets. Just because someone is a skilful martial artist for example, doesn’t mean they are going to be good teacher.
The obvious examples of the difference between those that do and teach are world class sportsmen/women and athletes. Their coaches generally are not world class in the activity themselves, though some are, far more often they have been good but not at the top level. However what they do excel at it is getting others to be the best.
The greatest reason for this is that when one reaches near peak performance of a skill, you become increasingly unaware of the precise details of what and how you are achieving it, this has ceased to be a cognitive thing and is happening on a deeper neurological level. The ability to analyse moves and actions and to put that understanding in to words or to help someone else will not be there. In fact that awareness is there while performing a task is there, it is actually likely to inhibit the highest level of performance.
A personal example is doing and teaching shoulder rolls, I have done…. Well so many I can’t think how to count them. I am not aware of all the details of what I do when I roll anymore. Sometimes when I am teaching rolls or for some reason I think about rolling while doing one, it does not work, it hurts a bit. I end up engaging mentally in the process, or re-investment as it is know in sports training, more than I should, the result, it doesn’t work as it should.
How one does something at a high level may be markedly different from the way one does it while learning, so doing as a master does it may not actually be the best way to do it a lower levels of proficiency. It certainly may not be where you need to be on the journey of acquiring skills. It could in fact be counter-productive to properly acquiring the skill. So another part of being a good teacher is seeing where the student is and ensuring that they are doing things appropriate to their level. This is something that the master practitioner may not be able to do.
Also at some point you have to stop teaching, they have to get on with it and gain understanding through their own experience. Really calling someone a Teacher is a misnomer, a better word is Guide. Teaching implies that you are giving them something that they do not already have or that they can’t get without the Teacher. When really you are guiding them to let the kill out, to get them to find it in themselves.
Going back to learning how to roll, once I have shown you what to do, and watched you do some and given advice on those, the next phase lies in you doing it and gaining experience and understanding from that. If it hurt, felt rough and disorganised, then you didn’t do it well. No pain, felt smooth, then you did it well. Of course the value of the guide is that they can see what you did and can observe the things that are off, using their own experience, to help frame your experience. However I can tell you all day long what is wrong or right, but until you can feel the difference and act on it yourself it won’t really mean anything to you.
Often the skill of the teacher is not what they say, but what they don’t say. Someone does not necessarily need to do all the things that were wrong just the one or two key points. The student doesn’t need to know everything that you know they need the one or two things that will help them now. What is important is where they are on their journey now, not where you are on yours.
So if you want to judge a teacher, do not necessarily look at how good they are with the skill, look at how good their students are, and if you really want to judge how good a teacher they are, don’t look at the best students. Look at the average in that group. Its easy to teach people who have lots of ability, but only a good teacher can really raise the levels of everyone. Also don’t judge the teacher on how much they talk, or how much information they can regurgitate, but how simply they pass the appropriate information on to the students.
Perhaps the old saying should be changed to
Those that can, do.
Those that can teach, teach.
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