We're All Teachers

“What we have here, is a failure… to communicate.”

Strother Martin as the prison warden in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.”


I’ve always had this unwavering respect for teachers.  I think those that accept the challenge of dispensing lessons and information to the masses have a unique calling and right or wrong, I’ve always looked to them to be the ultimate “keepers of the keys.” But, as with any profession, there are those who are not as fully dedicated as others. It’s hard for me to accept that with teachers though because they always walked on such hallowed ground.

Looking back, however, I recall this one pet peeve from when I was a student and I think in retrospect, it is the kind of thing that separates the good teachers from the merely adequate. I noticed that it started in elementary school, lasted through college and I even found it still breathing when I was a graduate student in the 1990s. It was this sort of “confessed incompetence” of professors and teachers that read like a therapy session; sort of an acknowledgement that says, “Hey, if I tell you up front where I lack, then you won’t expect too much and I won’t have to perform at a high level.”

I’ll give you a couple examples.

The professor is writing on the chalkboard and is listing bullet points under the heading “Things to Remember for the Test.” As he writes and the class takes notes he says, “Now don’t mind my spelling – I’m no English teacher.”

I’ve heard this more than a few times. Maybe he’s not an English teacher, but he is a teacher and should have at least a competent set of spelling skills right? I mean would your dentist tell you he’s not great at doing fillings but he cleans teeth real well?

Another version is a non-mathematical teacher using numbers and saying, “Now don’t hold me to the accuracy of that figure – I’m no good with numbers.”

Huh? You’re a teacher. This is a basic skill set you need to master, no?

See, I happen to believe that a teacher should be well-versed in the things that are elementary to education. You shouldn’t be allowed to not be at least competent at a related field in education. You can confess that you have to go slow to be sure you are right or something but you shouldn’t get the free pass that says “this isn’t my specialty so I am allowed to be no good at it – as long as I admit it.”

Would any of us get away with only doing the fun or easy parts of our jobs? I don’t think so.

BOSS: “Did you finish the report, Ron?”

ME: “Well I have all the information but I hate typing so can we just talk about it? I’m no secretary you know.”

Yeah right.

Here’s another version of that same “FAIL.”

The classroom discussion is lively and the prof heads to the chalkboard. He begins to craft a diagram or some sort of illustration to underscore his point and as he draws on the board he says, “Now don’t blame me if this isn’t clear – I’m no artist.”

For me, I lose all the enthusiasm right there. See, if this lecture has gotten passionate and this discussion is at full steam NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE QUALITY of your drawings – they just want to keep the debate alive. Now you’ve killed all the energy in the room and made it about you. If we’re all deeply and passionately involved in the discussion you can draw stick figures and keep it going for Pete’s sake – no one is judging you – they are waiting to be informed and enlightened and CHALLENGED by you. It is the job and it must be done completely.

The guy that climbed the pole in the storm to return our electrical power made the choice to do that job so he takes risks. The cop that is checking a warehouse property late at night and sees an open door doesn’t want to get ambushed or shot but he has to investigate why that door was left unlocked. He pulls his flashlight, calls for back-up and begins to look into it.

So where am I going with this?

Right to our own backyard. Park and Rec professionals and children's camp staff are often in the teaching role. They inform, direct and evaluate the public, their campers as well as the conservancies and governing authorities about vital information.  These “teachers” need to understand all aspects of nature as well as grants, budgets, maintenance, environments, etc.  We cannot dispense inaccurate information and expect our constituents to support our levy, contribute to our programs and endorse our initiatives.  We’re talking about commitment here, folks and our industry requires it.  You need to commit to seeing the whole picture and all that is connected to it.  What pillar do you provide to your company?  Strong, reliable employees are well-versed, informed and connected.

I recall one elementary school teacher that set very high standards.  She used to keep a little box in the back of the room. If any of us heard anyone in the classroom utter a grammatical mistake, we would write it down on paper, put it in the box and every Friday, the mistakes would be distributed to their “owners.” We would then go around the room and stand and correct our mistakes orally for all to hear. It was at first humiliating but then we noticed it started to work. We were careful about what we said in the room and it started to spill over into home life. It was all a matter of good habits developed by this very stern, very strictly teacher – who had us aspire to a higher standard. To this day I have that knee-jerk reaction when I hear a grammatical error.

Here are a few I hear daily that have me searching for that little scrap of paper to drop in the box.

  • This is where we are at.

  • I want to say thanks on behalf of Joe, Ed and myself.

  • I just want to say something before we get started.

  • My first and highest and number one-priority is to stop saying redundant things.

  • Just put your John Henry on that page and we’re all set.

  • He needs to lose up to 25 pounds or more.

  • I’m almost taller than you.

  • Wait until they are in close proximity.

We are all teachers, folks. My kids have complained their whole lives because when they would ask me a question I would always begin my response with, “Well what do you think?” It would always lead them to begin to develop answers and solutions without being told.  Independent thinking; a teaching method that simply asks people to depend on and think for themselves.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.