Scott Hipsher

Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

Is it necessary to have practical experience in order to teach it?


Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

As a professor of Management and Business Studies, I have been asked a few times in the classroom, usually after lecturing on how to run a global enterprise, by bright and inquisitive students why I wasn't actually in management as opposed to teaching it.

In these situations, I splutter out some response about how I enjoy teaching and such.

But I have never been completely satisfied with my answer and the old saying, "those who can, do, those who can't, teach" springs to mind and I wonder if there is a kernel of truth to this saying in my case.

I do have some management experience, and I even took a year off of teaching to take an assignment working as a manager for an NGO to get some additional practical experience. Nevertheless I do find teaching management to be both more interesting and easier than actually engaging in the office politics that are required in management in a modern organization. So in my case, it is easier and more satisfying to teach than to do.

Is it necessary to have extensive practical experience in order to teach a subject effectively?

What about language teachers?

Does the saying also often apply to teachers of a foreign language? Is it easier to teach a foreign language than to learn one?

In my years in international education, the majority of native teachers of English working abroad I have come across do not speak a foreign language. Can a teacher be effective in teaching a skill, learning a foreign language, the teacher has never acquired?

There does not appear to have been significant research on the effect of foreign language skills on the effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom, although I am not an expert in the field and maybe some readers can shed some additional light on this matter. Maybe this idea of the impact of foreign language skills on the effectiveness of English teachers would be a good topic for those doing post graduate research in the field of ESL or linguistics.

However intuitively it would appear that a teacher who has mastered a foreign language would better understand the students than a teacher who has never been in the shoes of the foreign language learning students. Although I have seen effective monolingual ESL teachers and ineffective multilingual teachers, on average my personal observations are consistent with my intuition on the topic. From observation, monolingual English teachers generally have less patience with the difficulties students have as well as having less cultural sensitivity. Multilingual teachers appear to me to generally be better able to relate and respond to language learning students in a meaningful way.

Taking my own education in the field of business and management as a guide, I can see both the benefits and the drawbacks of having teachers with extensive personal experience. On the plus side, teachers with "real-world" experience often understand the practical implications of the topics they are teaching. On the downside, some teachers see every situation through the filter of their own personal experience in a particular company within a specific industry and may not be effective in applying the ideas and theories they are teaching to different situations. Nothing gets boring faster for a student than listening to endless stories about "how I did things." Good teachers appear to use personal experience to embellish and illustrate the concepts found in the curriculum while poor teachers use personal experience as a substitute for the curriculum.

There might be some cases where having foreign language skills would make an ESL teacher less effective. For example, it is possible an ESL teacher with a gift for learning languages may assume all students can learn as quickly as he or she did and therefore not understand the difficulties students without the same natural ability might have. However it would appear in most cases a teacher who has went through the process of learning a new language would understand the needs of the students and would be able to become a more effective teacher.

I am not suggesting an individual needs to be multilingual to be an effective ESL teacher, as there are many other factors involved, however it would seem likely studying a foreign language and gaining foreign language skills would improve the effectiveness of most ESL teachers.

So if you want to be a good foreign language teacher, becoming a foreign language student might be one step in helping in achieving that goal.

Those who can, do, but they can also teach.


Scott Hipsher is the author of
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking Free from the Colonial Paradigm,

The Nature of Asian Firms: An Evolutionary Perspective,

Business Practices in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary analysis of Theravada Buddhist countries

as well as numerous book chapter, academic journal articles, conference papers and other articles on international business and other topics.

The author has also written about entrepreneurship in the book, Contemporary Microenterprise: Concepts and cases publish by Edward Elgar 




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