Myth "Those who can't do, teach."

Martin from Burnaby Instructor Posted   Latest   Edited  

Taking a step away from busting technical myths (mainly because some of the good ones have already been taken), I have chosen a non-technical myth for discussion. "Those who can't do, teach."

This myth is very popular in just about every field and often is most frequently expressed by automotive technicians. For those of us who are trained as technicians and as instructors, fully prepared and do our best in class every day, this old myth is considered to be far from the truth.

However, we must look deeper for the answers.....Opinions are like ________. Well, I'm sure you can fill in the blank and the rest of that line for yourselves!

As a long time technician with a well-rounded skill set and some specialized skills, I transitioned into instruction full-time, circa 2002. I soon discovered that there were areas of instruction where I needed to hone my skills to provide the best possible learning experience, but the old "Those who can't do, teach" myth still rings in my ears and irks me. It is my opinion that it unfairly and without proof, paints with "broad brush strokes" a poor perception about all who leave their field to teach.

One area where I lacked hands-on skills is wheel alignment. Since we had one technician at the dealership performing that role and the fact that the actual work didn't particularly interest me, my hands-on skills were minimal beyond basic levels of competency. I am sure that I am not alone in knowing where my strengths and weaknesses were when entering instruction. However, I did not venture to instruct in this area until I was up to speed.

Certainly, a few do make it into the ranks of instruction or teaching without having the requisite knowledge and skills, but from my perspective those who are technically astute and can adapt quickly and learn how to teach others, generally do a good job.

I believe that this myth is quickly dispelled by those of us who have trodden this path, while those who are critical and perceive the myth to be true, might have their views altered if they were to spend some time in the role of an instructor or teacher.

As a result of moving into instruction, I can state with fact that I have become a better technician in some areas where I once only considered myself just competent. One observation from working with others entering the field of instruction in a general program, is that those technicians with narrowly-defined skill sets often experience more challenges to develop their skills in specialties that they did not practice as technicians.

So, is the myth "Those who can't do, teach", fact, fiction or really somewhere in between? Come on in for a discussion about "swimming in the deep end." Those who can't swim are welcome.


Jaxon from Stafford Heights


Technical Support Specialist

Martin, I hear you. 

In my country I have heard the phrase "If you don't know; learn. If you do know; teach."

It has struck me that there is something missing, here.

What resonates for me is: 

If you don't know; learn.

If you do know; practice.

If you have mastered; teach.

Given how far and few "masters" are in this industry, it means that then, I must learn from those whom are practicing. 

Perhaps this is the origin of: "Those who can't do, teach."




James from Plant City



Hello Martin. I've been in many discussions with you on I-ATN and have the utmost respect for you and your knowledge and have no doubt that you could return to a dealership and diagnose failures with no problems. This does not apply industry-wide, however. I feel most trainers have a back-round as service techs before entering the training aspect and do a good job. The new cars and technology has bypassed many trainers, however. I know trainers take extended courses to keep up but that is not the same as being in the field face to face with problem vehicles.

Working for G.M. I am under extreme pressure for a quick diagnosis with very short time constraints. Most of my diagnostic procedures do not follow published G.M. procedures. I refuse to follow 3 pages of procedures for .3 re-numeration. Before you mention that G.M. will pay up to 1 hour diagnostic time now, there are many hoops to jump thru to get it. Also, I see many other times have been reduced in anticipation of extended diagnostic time.

I only call tech assist if necessary to support extended diagnostic time as they are seldom of any assistance. G.M. field training has been dumbed down to the extent that it offers only basics. Gone are the days of courses such as SET 1 and SET 2. I have seen many times where G.M. field product engineers have come to our dealership to examine vehicles that will be buy backs after 1 more repair attempt. I don't remember a field service engineer correctly diagnosing a problem vehicle in the last 10 years even after speeding 6 hours or more on it. Of course, G.M. wants to pays it's technicians .3 for the same attempts.

Don't feel that I'm impuning all instructors as I wouldn't want to do their jobs. I'm sure that as vehicles become more complex, the training problem will intensify. I've heard some tech assist agents complain that it's very difficult to assist a tech in network diagnosis over the phone when they don't even know how to properly use a DVOM, let alone proper v-drop procedures. Have you ever wondered why G.M. only supports basic resistance testing and seldom uses v-drop procedures and scope use only for vibration analysis?

Again, there are many great trainers out there but there are also trainers only comfortable with basics. Even basics can be problematic at times. For example, how many trainers and techs actually know how a simple o2 sensor operates? I remember being at several G.M. hands on training sessions over the years where the instructor taught an alternate reality.


Martin from Burnaby



Hi James. Thanks, I'd be lying or fooling myself, if I thought that I could ever perform as efficiently as I once did back in my dealership days. Good old rose-tinted glasses paint a different perspective of what once was and what currently is. Fortunately, my continual contact keeps me abreast of many of the changes, even though I may not perform the physical work under duress. It would take me 6 months to get back up to "full speed", at which point my body would protest, "enough!"

When I was 48, I began experiencing painful damaging joint issues, that clued me in to the fact that nothing is forever. I was fortunate in the fact that my skills and work ethic was recognized as being useful and it allowed a sideways career move. So, while having the potential to still complete diagnostics, I am sure that the speed would no longer be achievable! It's a long ways from my last days on the bench in '03 at 51, to 66! No misconceptions here.

I do keep my training requirements absolutely current, but am also well aware that doesn't translate to the portable skills required to diagnose every vehicle that crosses a facility threshold in current time. Fighting obsolescence can be a challenge for sure and I have seen as you mentioned, instructors who do not pursue skills maintenance. I do still visit my previous place of employment and others to keep in tune with some of the struggles and pick up valuable information through posts, such as you are renowned for.

Our GM vehicle donations run the gamut from body damaged to buy-backs, the latter being interesting challenges for me. The last buy-back donation was a 2012 Sonic which had parts thrown at it. A fairly routine diagnosis on my part, led to a poor connection at the ECM. Had that vehicle been in your service bay, it would likely have been addressed quickly and without fuss. I still spent less than an hour. I do still enjoy the challenge of working on our vehicles. Stuff happens on college vehicles, no matter how much we impress the need to be careful with connections, so problems that may be student induced or happen naturally, must all be resolved in my bay.

Technically, most of the subject matter is interesting and can be overcome. I have the luxury of significantly more time to do that these days, without the dreaded 0.0-0.3 or recently introduced up to 1.0hr extension plus "jumping through hoops". My job today is to get the dealership up to speed in managing the corporate protocol stuff and begin with basics and move through more advance levels over 5 terms of 8 weeks duration. My students are already dealership employees usually having some experience in the service bays and sometimes having picked up some useful skills, or conversely bad habits. If I can teach them the basics and how to become proficient, if they can grasp and build their technical expertise, it is a good start.

We experienced the same issues with field engineering having difficulty diagnosing if at all, concerns where technicians with strong diagnostic skills were having difficulty. Ultimately, we usually managed to address most if not all concerns after they had left. I remember the days when they carried a Fluke 98 around in their kit without really having any experience or much expertise. I don't suppose for a minute that their work is easy, unless the technician working on a vehicle has overlooked something fairly basic. However, TAC and field engineering usually have some stuff reserved that is not readily available to the masses. I recall drive line vibration on Blazers that used the harmonic balancer pinion flange. I had one where the available correction balancers did not correct the issue, but the field engineer had one that wasn't available to others that did effect a repair.

This week in class we will work through our 18017.24H Electrical Diagnosis course which still contains some elements of SET. Ensuring that the students are properly familiarized with the Fluke 87 and other tools commonly used in electrical diagnostics, they will learn about the importance of voltage drop and other tests for a well-rounded introduction into basic electrical theory and diagnosis.

I'm with you on methodology of getting the job completed efficiently in the real world. While the published methods might take a technician through steps to eventually resolve a concern or not, we well know that from experience and expertise that there are alternate strategies that can be more efficient for those with expertise. While GM course content must be delivered consistently within their guidelines, in the apprenticeship which our 30 or so GM instructor-led courses augments, it allows for freedom to explore alternate methods in order to meet apprenticeship requirements.

Throughout my wrenching days, calling TAC was a pretty similar experience/need as yours, for approval rather than diagnostic assistance. However, the last time I attended upgrade training in Toronto, a TAC representative was there and he was both skilled and knowledgeable, which was refreshing. I recall having to make a call to TAC for an injection pump failure years ago and I was asked whether I'd completed Chart "A3", which was "Cranks But Does Not Run". "I drove it into the shop" was my response, to which the "Have you completed Chart A3?" was asked until he eventually understood!

Instruction certainly isn't for all. In the real world I have poor tolerance for idiots, yet I have always had extreme patience to assist those who wanted to learn in the dealership service bays. I was fortunate to be well-compensated during my time, based on skills and negotiations. Expecting a production only focused technician to be a mentor, is fruitless at best and rarely works out well.

I am currently mentoring a younger ex-GM technician turned shop foreman from a local dealership into my role. His eyes have been opened to the huge amount of work over the general programs that is necessary, but he is enthused and motivated. On September 10th, I will hand over the reins and set him free to strut his stuff in my absence, while I move back over to Product Service Training for a while to assist in reducing a back log of journey person technician courses. First on my list is delivery of the new Infotainment 1 and 2 courses, with certification. I completed the training in November and now the courses have been finalized and #1 is being delivered.

This is where the real world experiences of the technicians addressing system concerns will meet the informational material of the courses and introduction to diagnosing these systems. Training as such, provides informational material and a few tips at most for the "top guns" who need only attend for the certification. However, over several deliveries of a course, the content and diagnostics tend hit the real targeted audience that needs to get up to speed.

Such is the pace that Infotainment advances to keep up with consumer desired technologies, that the previous Infotainment courses had a very short shelf life. I expect the same of the new courses in short order over the next year or so. Nothing stays the same for long!


Jim from Frederick


Curriculum Developer


I came to teaching through a non-automotive journey. I learned it in a series of hobbies. Everything I am about to type is made from my own observations and current core structure.

Teaching can be a large portion of mastery. 

Mastery does not identify a skilled teacher. 

High skill does not indicate mastery.

Much of what is viewed as mastery is actually pattern recognition/response in a confined arena without exposure to deviation. Deviation shows the lessons to still be learned. 

There are high paid, respected fields where the person is a practitioner or has a practice. We should practice continually.

The root of many failings can be traced to a crack or missing component in what are called "the basics" by most and what always merits practice. Here I will expand a bit. One of the places I learned to teach was in a martial arts setting. I spent eleven years, four to six nights a week in the study. I came to this in my late twenties. When a younger student (with a couple years of experience) would be struggling with an "advanced" skill, the dynamic may sound familiar. I would watch the skill. Then I would ask them to show me something they likely learned in the first three to six months of training. The look of indignation was predictable for many. Yet sure enough, the individual had developed a hitch, bad habit or other symptom that was eroding a "basic" skill. Once that was fixed, the "advanced" skill reappeared. 

There are too many lectures.

There are too many displays of skill (look at this car I fixed) as opposed to helping students discover the way of THINKING that lead to the repair. 

An interesting read.........


Randy from Denver



Jim, I couldn’t agree more. Martin‘s quote could be flipped, “Those who can do, can teach” and that is another myth. In addition, some think because learning took place, a teacher was present. 


Martin from Burnaby



Excellent point Randy. We've seen "prima donna" top guns who were the ultimate and revered subject matter experts, but who unfortunately were poor at facilitating learning.


Martin from Burnaby



Hi Jim. I agree completely. Just because one has skills Mastery and subject matter expertise, it does not necessarily make on a good teacher or instructor. However, it can be very challenging for an instructor to stand before a class as an "imposter" lacking a reasonable level of expertise. Students also do not need to know everything that a highly skilled subject matter expert knows.

The art of teaching is a separate entity in that it may be a natural progression from workplace mentoring or having a knack of assisting others, or a learned practice. Without any ability to teach, the intended learning will not take place. I hailed from both mentoring and formal training, yet there are no guarantees that I could teach someone to "fix a sandwich". It takes time develop communication skills and engage learners in the classroom.

I for one do not enjoy lectures, "You listen while I talk", or the class who listens to the teacher approach. I fail to see the benefit of PowerPoint slide shows that regurgitate information that is in a text or supporting course book as serving as the primary media for learning. While "lecture" time in many classrooms is typically 7:30 am - 9:30 am and the rest of the day reserved for the shop, I much prefer to have my students standing up in the shop after short briefing to discuss risk and hazard assessment, safety and the basic concept and theory or physical tasks for the day. I can coach and challenge them more effectively when they are practicing new skills, rather than prattling on from ppts. As for demonstrations, of course some are necessary, but I mostly have students attempt the shop activity, while I observe coach and ask questions when necessary. It is their time for learning opportunities, not my time to show off skills.

Being aware of the knowledge and tangible skills that need to be taken away from training and how to achieve that is important. Students do not need to know everything to the highest level from the start, just because a Master with subject matter expertise bar none thinks that is what is needed. Goals, objectives and activities associated with specific learning needs are targeted and deviation to higher levels, while a few may be receptive, confuses others.

Instructors and teachers alike have the opportunity to facilitate learning to students who are empowered, motivated and responsible for their own learning. I routinely refer to myself as the "tour director" and one who is familiar with the direction my students might take down the "trodden path."

While some of the topics within automotive instruction are less that exhilarating, they are none the less important. It can be challenging to tackle such topics while being confined to restraints of a "canned course" unless the instructor can read the audience and adjust the delivery methods to make learning meaningful.

So Jim. I hear you loud and clear. It definitely takes a balance of skills to be an effective instructor or teacher. Every class has a unique dynamic which dictates adapting our approach to facilitation of their learning.


Chris from Raleigh



Me thinks thoust hath grasped the tail 🧠


Martin from Burnaby



You bet Chris. Without a reasonable level of subject matter expertise, an "imposter" can quickly be recognized when training professional technicians at the top of their game. It is a "Mythconception" to falsely believe that this type of audience will readily accept mediocrity through a lack of knowledge, skills and/or the inability to engage the learners.

There are so many ways that it can result in a poor learning and/or instructional experience for both students and instructors respectively. For those thinking that instruction is easy provided that they have good subject matter expertise and skills, it could also be a big "Mythtake®" to set foot in a classroom.

There are "invisible ingredients", beyond having acceptable subject matter expertise and classroom delivery skills", that make learning meaningful and of value to the audience.


Pete from Newark



Hey Martin, 

This is a good one. Like technicians, trainers come in all shapes, sizes, colors and ability levels. 

I think we all know a trainer who is decent in the classroom but all thumbs in the bays, that's probbaly where this myth originated. I've seen quite a few examples where a tech with 3-4 years experience (maybe less) becomes the instructor at a local high school after they failed out of the local job market in 3-4 years but hey they've got their ASE A1-A8 so the school figures they are qualified and the high school kids are too dumb to know any better. This doesn't necessarily mean they will suck as teachers -though it does stack the odds against them- but certainly it enforces the "those who can't, teach".

Most of us also probably know some pretty amazing techs who we wish would put on classes but the truth is they'd suck at it because they'd be too annoyed by what the students don't know. This probably reinforces the "those who can, do". 

That being said I think the absolute best instructors are still fixing cars, nearly, every day in some sort of production environment. Of course these are generally a different kind of instructor too, the creme of the creme. 

As a mediocre trainer, on my best day, who has built and taught some of his own material; I'm in awe at the guys who teach regularly while holding down a semi full time technician or owner position, most are subsidizing their passion to teach with their day job. A 3 hour class could take several hundred hours to prepare and practice so when you factor in the money it's often a few rungs down from a good technician wage. Which is a whole different irony of our trade. :o)


Martin from Burnaby



Isn't that the truth Pete?! As you said, there are so many variables and ways that words can be organized, that create opposing myths!


Alan from Calgary



Hi Martin Long Time! ... (actually I meant I'm listening to that great old Boston tune ;) )But I for one can attest and confess to this old adage! IT'S TRUE!!My hands, eyes, and back just don't work like they used to...(brain enthusiasm still A-OK though so...)Alan


Martin from Burnaby



Hi Alan! Sorry, I didn't see your reply until now. Yes, it's been a while since our paths last crossed! I hope that all is well with you in "retirement" in warmer climates.

Absolutely, my body doesn't take too kindly to some of the abuse I've subjected it to over the years. I've got a worn out disc that makes my back clunk like a worn out CV joint when I lay on my right side. Its okay when laying on the left, so that's what I do! VBG. As long as I can keep my brain ticking over though, I'll be happy.

I'm working in PST with the "Muffin Man" these days, so you can imagine the fun stuff we get up to most every day. We're off to Detroit on Thursday for the annual IAGMASEP conference, then off to the TTT in Toronto in late November to catch up with Randy, Jim and the gang. Take care!