Skip to main content

When You Can't Teach, Administrate

There's a somewhat famous expression that most teachers find insulting - "He who can does. He who cannot teaches." It implies that teachers cannot function or "produce results" in the "real world" but they know enough to tell or direct others how. And this implies that education is mainly about skill building (for jobs) and not about knowledge or character. I could go on and on about this, but I wanted to discuss HL Mencken's addition to George Bernard Shaw's quote:

Those who can't teach - administrate. 

Those who can't administrate - go into politics.

I heard this quote way back in late elementary school or junior high school and it struck a chord. It especially rings loudly in my mind as I have spent the last few years of my life in administration rather than teaching in higher education. And sadly I have to confirm that many administrators can't or won't teach. Yes, it makes me sad because I am an educator and I believe that educators can and should administrate in the "business" of education because the heart of education is teaching and learning, but perhaps I am naive.

Administration is mostly about management, but some of my fellow administrators forget that education is what brings people and things together to manage. A bigger paycheck and more power distorts their sense of purpose and identity. Yes, I've had the bigger paycheck and I had the opportunity to have more power but I've observed that power distances me from the one I need to "manage"--teachers. And my observations of being a student for two decades and a teacher for two decades has shown me that a school or program usually fails when the teachers are at odds with the administration.

Assumption: Disengaged teachers lead to disengaged students, which leads to little or no learning. 

When I was reading through the literature about culturally responsive teaching, I learned that engaging and believing in your students helps improve the teaching and learning process. I argue that the same applies to the relationship between administrators and teachers because we are human. Engaging and believing in your teachers helps improve the teaching and learning process. Studies on retention have evidence that this may be true in teacher-student relationships. Is it too much of a leap to apply the same logic to administrator-teacher relationships?

I have applied the same strategies I used in my EFL and ESL classrooms to build a sense of inclusion and community for the professional development sessions I have facilitated, and I have found the results to be similar: more engaged people who are motivated to meet the outcomes. Isn't that leadership? I have always found more success working with teachers to improve the program than developing solutions independently from them and telling them what to do.

If we take a business mindset of applying problem solving to educational institutions, they main "problem" is usually customer (student) dissatisfaction with the product (curriculum) or service (teaching and extracurricular activities). The teachers work with the product and service on a daily basis and they can best identity areas for improvement. I have found that administrators and other stakeholders are too quick to blame teachers, but it's often a flaw in the product (curriculum) or service (teaching and extracurricular policies) that makes their job to engage students more difficult. The teachers can help identify these flaws. And if there the problem is a teacher or two, the evidence usually emerges during the collaborative process of improving the program. But if an administrator blames a teacher too quickly, even if the blame is warranted, the administrator works breaking the trust with all teaching faculty. Once trust is broken, the institution now has another problem, administrators cannot effectively engage teachers, and that can make current problems even worse.

Next Steps

I am interested in further exploring the weak evidence that student engagement improves learning in the English language classroom. But I am even more interested in testing my hypothesis that teacher engagement improves learning in the English language program. Furthermore, I'd like to investigate if teacher engagement directly or indirectly results in student engagement.

I'd like to supply a nice literature review on this as soon as complete my two other research projects, so perhaps I'll have add some to this blog in late summer/early fall.


Popular posts from this blog

Are you an Open Educator?

Image from What is an Open Educator? According to a recently published article from the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL):

An Open Educator chooses to use open approaches, when possible and appropriate, with the aim to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning. He/she works through an open online identity and relies on online social networking to enrich and implement his/her work, understanding that collaboration bears a responsibility towards the work of others.

Does this sound attractive for English language teachers? It seems to some who offer courses through or with YouTube. But what does it mean "to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning?" Working for free? Not necessarily. If you read the article, it seems you'd be working on a sliding scale depending on the socioeconomic status of the learners, but this sliding scale is a sliding slope. How can poor le…

Revisiting Multiliteracies & Moving On

I have been interested in a multiliteracies approach to English language learning and teaching for almost a decade now. I've been blogging about it since 2010 and I gave a presentation on this for two conferences in Iowa. I decided to put this interest aside so I could complete my dissertation on another topic and search for jobs. Now that a few years have passed, I'd like to share how my interest has changed.

The foundation of my interest is best represented by the Prezi I made (below) for my 2010 MIDTESOL Conference presentation:

My primary reference was Stuart Selber's 2004 book Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, published by Southern Illinois University Press. While working for the Kirkwood Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (KCELT), I found some similarities between my highlighted concepts from Selber's book and the Framework for 21st Century Learning, which you can view at The third category (Information, Med…

The Tao of Praxis

Last week, I started reading The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff to my daughter as part of her bedtime regimen. I bought this book years ago after a colleague recommended it to me when he learned I was interested in Taoism. Since then I have embraced much of its philosophy, but I stop short of calling myself a Taoist. I didn't realize until now that Taoism has deeply affected my attitudes and beliefs towards English language teaching and scholarship, especially concerning the concept of praxis. Below are some examples.

The passage above comes from Chapter 3: Spelling Tuesday, page 26. It's not a subtle attack on academics, specifically those whose goals are to get published to be accepted among an elite circle of scholars. This is particularly striking to me because, at this point in my life, I would like to gain acceptance among this elite circle, which I perhaps naively equate to tenured professors. However, I strive to make my life's work beneficial to English language te…