Does Teaching Make Us Dumber?

While student teaching during college, an older veteran complained to me about something I’ve wondered about ever since.  She said that years of teaching basic, remedial English had atrophied her own higher thinking skills.  Bitterly, she said that she could no longer remember how to analyze things like she could in college, because she hadn’t had to use any mental ability more complex than explaining simple grammar in decades.

That scared me.  But it’s wrong.

It may have been true in her case, but it’s a choice she made.  Why didn’t she read more, or exercise her mind in other ways?

“Because teaching takes too much time!” might be implied.

But that’s a choice, too.  As I wrote last year, a lot of teachers marry their jobs out of a desire to fit an inspirational mold or just out of a misguided desire to fulfill their own Puritan martyr fantasies.  Such sacrifice does little to improve actual education.

We all make priorities.  I can identify with that older teacher’s complaint because, in college, I could read Beowulf in the original.  That trick is long gone, though, as I have not chosen to keep it fresh.  But it was a choice.

And how many people do keep their minds in the prime condition they were in during college, anyway?  Is this unique to teachers?  Blaming the job for sluggish intelligence seems like a paltry excuse.

Actually, I’ve found that teaching, if anything, helps to keep my mind sharp.  Some of that is because I try to challenge myself with engaging material in and out of the classroom, but a lot of it is the students themselves.  Most students, not just the super smart ones, have interests and experiences that can broaden any teacher’s horizons.  Their constant conversations about what’s going on in their other classes can do quite a bit towards keeping us well rounded.

If nothing else, solving the riddle of how to stimulate young minds and explain things is itself a fascinating puzzle that should keep any brain in shape all the way to retirement.

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