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When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Will Appear

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By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

This is a common saying that is attributed to either the Buddha or Confucius, but regardless of the source, it contains a lot of wisdom whenever I think of it in my many years of teaching experience.  This gem of truth is applicable to all teaching and learning situations, including SAT/ACT test-prep.  To many parents, the first question on their minds is whether the teacher is qualified, how the teacher is going to teach and help the students to learn, how the teacher will motivate or discipline the students when necessary.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are all valid questions, but the most important question is still: is the student ready to learn?

My personal experience in life has taught me this lesson very well.  In my early career as an IT professional and manager, I have the responsibilities to supervise people in my team or company, from a few team members to dozens of employees at the company.  I also have the responsibility to hire people for vacancies.  But whenever I find someone who is qualified and willing to take the job, I would have this conversation with him before I give him an offer: “I cannot predict how motivated you will be if you take up this job; that is something that only you would know.  But I can tell you one thing.  If you expect me to motivate you or to discipline you in your work, you have come to the wrong place.  Because I expect all my people to be self-disciplined and self-motivated.” 

For very simple reasons, I believe that the supervisor in the workplace is a manager and enhancer.  The worker should have fundamental qualities like willingness to learn, willingness to work hard, discipline, and self-motivation.  These are not things that a manager can instill in an employee.  If the worker does not have these qualities, it is futile to expect the supervisor to “generate” these qualities in him.  Furthermore, I am sure that the supervisor has much work of his own and cannot spare the time and effort to help all his subordinates who are not disciplined and unmotivated.  Every person, from the CEO down to the first-level supervisor, has their own duties and responsibilities to perform.  We cannot expect them to find the time to discipline or motivate every single one of their subordinates.  In other words, if the worker is not ready for the job, you will end up hiring the wrong person.

The same applies to the teacher-student relationship.  The teacher is there to enhance the learning, discipline, and the motivation of the students.  When the students lack these basic qualities, the teacher cannot possibly be expected to fill in the void.  Discipline and motivation should be established early in the student’s life – in primary and secondary school and family life.  Test-prep is only a very short time in the education of the students, and test-prep teachers cannot be expected to provide basic discipline and motivation, because that would be wasting time during the lessons.  Parents need to make sure that their children have the necessary qualities first, and not expect the teachers to perform extra tasks or duties.  If not, then parents may need to taper down their expectations, and not hope for “reaching the sky.”

This is not the same as the classic “chicken-and-egg” problem, because we know which should come first in this case.  When the student has all the necessary qualities, then it is not difficult to find a teacher who can help him.  However, if the student lacks these qualities, then even the best teacher in this world will be ineffectual.

Mr. Paul Lim
Mr. Paul Lim, Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

Mr. Paul Lim

Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer

MBA, National University of Singapore

B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College

TBE

TESOL

  • Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
  • Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
  • Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
  • Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary

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