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  • Nicole Yarling

"Those who can do..."

"Those who can’t, teach”

—George Bernard Shaw


According to the website Quora, this quote came from George Bernard Shaw’s Maxims for Revolutionists. The quote is “He who can does; he who cannot, teaches.” It is also a line in his play Man and Superman:

“Don’t listen to her Bob. Remember those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”


There was a point in my life that I believed this to be true. I bought into the idea that you could not do both, but through the years I’ve learned that this is the furthest thing from the truth. Yes, there are people that are excellent performers but cannot articulate their knowledge and experience. And there are those who are excellent teachers but may not have the necessary skills to perform. I've been fortunate enough to have individuals in my life that are great at both. I believe that some are born with the ability to do both but some, like myself, must learn to develop the other.


I received a Masters Degree from Teachers College, Colombia University. I never really intended to teach. I wanted to play music. For about 25 years, I performed in several capacities: leading groups, singing background, doing sessions, clinics, workshops, etc. I was offered several teaching opportunities and I turned everyone down until I met Dr. Alfred Pinkston, Chair of Music at Florida Memorial College at the time. He called and asked and I said no several times. His persistence finally got me to the school where I met up with an old bandmate, Melton Mustafa, and someone I would admire for the rest of my life, Dr. Dawn Batson. I attended that meeting and some eighteen years later I never left. When I got there I had little practical teaching experience. But Dr. Pinkston’s instinct and support allowed me to find the best best way to impart my knowledge and experience and to develop a method that worked for me.

What I learned about teaching was that individuals receive information in different ways. Some are aural learners, some are visual, some tactile learners. Some have learning disabilities that hinder conventional learning. As an educator, you may or may not be privy to this information when you meet your students. You learn these things along the way. So your challenge is to figure out a way to impart information in a diverse learning environment.

I also trained as a Literacy Volunteer years ago and learned one important tool that stayed with me. Simply, teach people where they are. Find out what they want to learn and teach them that skillset. Once they acquire that information they will probably want more. In other words, lead them to the water.

Most importantly I learned that I must gain the trust of the people I am working with. Age is not a factor. I realized that individuals are asking for information they may know nothing about from someone they don’t know very well. They must first learn to trust the instructor and and the instructor should encourage them to trust themselves.

I learned that I must have patience. I learned that people also acquire information at different speeds. I learned to be supportive and encourage students to be patient with themselves. I learned how to listen.

All of the clinicians that mentor the members of the JECC are some of the finest working musicians on the planet. I am grateful for their expertise and the time they share with the students. These people all have the same qualities I discovered for myself. Much of this has nothing to do with pedagogy. They are all knowledgeable and you can hear it in their playing and the information they share with the students. These musicians are making their life experiences available to young people. In my opinion, a good teacher gives information, instruction, and tools and then gets out of the way.

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