Do experts teach best?
I’ve taken the title of this post from one of the sub-topics in this article about learning to learn. The article makes several good points and is certainly worth a read, but I want to focus on one question that was brought up near the end of the article: who should teach?
The article’s argument pointed to the fact that an expert on a subject may be blind to things that a student needs to know. To the teacher some things might be taken for granted, so they aren’t communicated well. On the student’s side, enough insight may not be present to even articulate the need. Beginners need to see the process, not perfection.
When I was taking music lessons in school, I had a private teacher that was also a teacher at the school that I attended. Fortunately for me, he lived close by and my parents were able to afford to pay his private lesson rates. I made significant progress under his tutelage, but it wasn’t until much later that I learned that there was more potential for me to progress in my studies than I thought.
Fast forward several years, and I found myself in a position to informally teach a student who was a friend’s younger sibling. The family was happy to compensate me for my time, which I gladly accepted. The compensation was much lower than what an accredited music teacher would have earned, but since I lacked any credentials, the arrangement was certainly appropriate.
Upon hearing about my student’s informal arrangement, her teacher (who was also my former teacher) expressed concern that she should not be taking lessons from anyone that was not a certified music instructor. Ordinarily that, as they say, might have been that. However the teacher noticed that the student had been progressing faster than her peers and the student cited being more comfortable asking questions in the less formal lessons that I had been giving her.
She continued her lessons with me for about a year and I turned her over to another peer of mine, who was more accomplished than myself. I considered her in better hands and I felt good about the progress that we had made during our lessons.
It wasn’t until several years later that I learned that the formal school curriculum had changed to encourage informal lessons by older students. Apparently, the technique really worked well — well enough to formalize as part of the curriculum.