Scott is a very bright student who is successful at school, and is intent on getting the highest grade point average he can. After the conversation about “sharing the wealth”, he asked to see me after class. He was blunt.
“Why should I teach kids who don’t understand this? That’s not my job. I want to get my work done and move on. If they don’t get it as fast as I do, that’s their problem, not mine.”
“Well, that’s true,” I say, “but I would argue that talking to your peers is actually in your best interest. What I have found, after decades of doing this, is that whenever I teach, I am learning too. Imagine that you have finished some homework reading and you feel like you get it. Now you come into class, and one or two people are asking you questions while trying to master it themselves. Every question they ask challenges your understanding, and answering their questions deepens your grasp of the subject. Besides, the alternative is a class in which we all do the same thing at the same time, and I stand at the front of the room and teach to everyone. If you want the benefits of a student-directed classroom, you have to participate in new ways.”
“That may be,” he says, “but I don’t know how to teach, and, to be honest, I don’t particularly want to learn.”
“Scott, I know you have a strong intuitive grasp of the concepts we’re talking about and great mathematical skills. I’m going to go out on a limb and push you even further - I think you should consider becoming a study group leader.”
He stares at me, disbelievingly. “You’re kidding.”
“Scott, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I have pretty good instincts about these things. I really believe you’ll enjoy this class a lot more if you take this on. You’ll learn about yourself as a person, as someone capable of leading others, and you will learn the content more deeply. I’d say give it a try. In the worst case, you do it for a while and then change your mind. That would be okay too. I’d just like to see what you can do with it.”
He grudgingly tells me he’ll think about it.
It turns out that over time, he becomes an exemplary leader. He learns how to teach, but more importantly, he learns a lot about how to keep his group on task just enough to be effective, and to do it without using force.