For the Teacher Who Can’t

Not much infuriates me both professionally and personally as much as this phrase, proclaimed by people who would not have graduated from Kindergarten if it weren’t for a teacher:

Those who can’t, teach.

When I hear that insult–even jokingly–or see it posted on social media, I wish so badly those folks would spend a week in a classroom to witness the magic that happens from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. I want them to see a 5-year-old blend letters together to read his first word aloud or a 15-year-old give her project a trial run in robotics class. I want them to meet the senior who will walk across the stage at graduation while his family proudly cheers because he will be a first-generation college student.


Teachers can’t? Really?


On second thought, maybe those people are right. Maybe there are a few things teachers can’t do.

TEACHERS CAN’T keep from making kids feel special, so they…

  • use their Scholastic points to get free books for the children who can’t turn in book orders
  • keep costumes in the closet, so every child can dress up for the Halloween parade
  • visit a sick girl in a hospital two hours away and surprise her with a gift basket from the class
  • throw a going-away party for a foster child and give him a new backpack filled with supplies for his new school

TEACHERS CAN’T teach a hungry child, so they…

  • keep a a secret snack drawer and sneak a granola bar to the little girl who comes in late most days
  • put money in a child’s lunch account so he doesn’t have to eat PB&J from the cafeteria…again
  • give money to a girl so she can buy food on the field trip like her friends
  • open their classroom at lunch so the freshman who doesn’t “fit in” will eat rather than avoid the cafeteria and go hungry

TEACHERS CAN’T ignore the need, so they…

  • brush tangled hair and supply ponytails and barrettes
  • stock Huggies wipes or teach children to take a “sink bath” to clean faces, necks, arms, and hands
  • open the locker room before school so a high school student can shower when water is shut off at home
  • buy basketball shoes for the boy who made the varsity team
  • anonymously pay a family’s utility bill, so the home has electricity, water, or heat
  • deliver groceries to a single mom so she can prepare a Thanksgiving meal for her children

TEACHERS CAN’T let their kids be cold, so they…

  • keep clothes in the closet for the boy wearing a short-sleeve t-shirt on a snowy day
  • buy socks, gloves, and hats on clearance at the end of the season because some kid will need them next year
  • go to yard sales in the summer to find a coat for the boy who will only have a hoodie come November
  • or hold a yard sale–in the classroom–to clear out clothes their own children have outgrown, where students fill a bag for free

TEACHERS CAN’T stand disappointment at big events, so they…

  • pay for field day shirts because every child should have one for field day at the end of the year
  • buy a new dress for a little girl for Kindergarten graduation
  • buy a cap and gown for a senior boy for high school graduation
  • collect donated prom dresses and shoes to set up a free shop
  • rent a tuxedo so a boy can take his girlfriend to prom

TEACHERS CAN’T resist sharing Christmas joy, so they…

  • deliver a bicycle to the office and ask the principal to tell a little girl she won it
  • leave gifts in the nurse’s office to be delivered to a child anonymously
  • give money to parents, so they can buy their own gifts for their children
  • choose a family each year and have gifts delivered to their home from Secret Santa

So maybe it’s true after all. Those who can’t (resist changing the world) teach. But we don’t choose our profession by default. We choose it by heart. Because it’s not just a profession. It’s personal.

This is American Education Week, and I celebrate teachers everywhere–especially my friends at Arcadia Valley whose caring, generous hearts provided the content for this post.

Do you know a teacher whose actions reach far beyond the job description? Did a teacher meet a special need for you or for a friend? Leave a comment so we can celebrate him or her! (And if you would like to help me honor teachers, please hit that share button.)



  1. Kim says:

    Love this! So true! See it every day!

  2. Rich says:

    Don’t forget those teachers who can’t resist blogging stuff like this to remind other teachers of why we do what we do.


  3. Lois Y. says:

    This is so true! I have worked at three different districts and I saw it at all three. As I was reading this, it brought to mind different teachers that I know that have done the things listed. It brought a smile, for the teachers with big hearts and a tear for the students that have lived it. Thanks for reminding us why we are here!

    • Karen Sargent says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Lois! When I read the emails the teachers sent with all the “extra” things they do, it made me a little teary, too, even though none of it surprised me…because that’s just who teachers are. But just reading so many acts of love and kindness all at once…definitely touched the emotions!

  4. Pat Wahler says:

    This is such a lovely post and definitely brings a new perspective to the work of those who teach.

  5. LINDA WILSON says:

    love this and thanks to all the teachers for all their love and support for the kids again you have wrote a wonderful article, you are meant to be a writer love u Karen

  6. Barb says:

    Karen, another heart stamped blog. Teaching is a career that is such an amazing ministry of love. Thank you for loving your coworkers, students, and sharing your gift of putting thoughts on paper and into the hearts of others. Love you!

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