Can a learner be better than the teacher?

Posted: February 21, 2011 in Education

Maryllen Weimer (2002) uses the term “master learner” to refer to a learner’s teacher. She points out that teachers should be ahead of their sudents and should seek to continuously learn. Ahead, but they should not drift away to leave their students behind. Hence, they have to be the models and epitome of a life-long learner.

Some few years ago, I did a study to evaluate the English proficiency of the faculty and students in one school. My findings were revealing and congruent to what the DepEd found out when it conducted a self-assesment test of the public elementary school teachers’ English proficiency level (EPL). In 2007, DepEd found that 1 out 5 teachers have poor EPL, and that is nationwide.

My conclusion in that single case study says the same, that the teachers’ EPL is too close with that of their students. Thus,  it would be impossible to infer that students learn their English from them. In otherwords, the students have better EPL than their teachers.  On five level scale, that measures the participants reading, thinking, speaking, writing, vocabulary, grammar skills, the students is at level 3-4, while the faculy is only in levels 1-2.

The said results are based on the groups’ development stage, so the groups are scored differently in the said test. But, the mean scores are so close that there is no significant difference between the groups’ scores. On this ground, I say that it is possible that a lerner can be better than the teacher.


However, most teachers may not agree with me, especially those who are close-minded to think that they are the ultimate source of knowledge and they are in everyway better and advanced than their students. I think otherwise.

For several times, I tried not to lecture in the class among freshmen college students. Instead, I engage them into thinking processes that I could lead or facilitate. In all cases, I get surprised that the inputs they share can be understood as really meaningful outputs. So close from what is presented in the books that experts and scholars wrote.

To illustrate, once I handled a class which is homogenously composed of those students with very low self-esteem and equally low scores in the college entrance exam and in other tests. Our learning objective was to describe and use strategies in summarizing a reding material. I asked them to read a 1-page text, and summarize it in the end.

While some can summarize, others cannot just do it. I called on those who are unable to do so. I asked them to skim the material again, and repond to several questions targeting on their skill to grasp main ideas in each paragraph. Then I called on those students who were able to summarize the text to write down on the board what enabled them to summarize.

They wrote down some steps. Not in order of course. Then, I drew their attention to put those steps in order, and simplify them in five steps. They argued and argued, but they all agreed in the end to a set of simple steps in summarizing texts. I evaluated each step, as to how it would affect the other. Then I asked everyone to read another text and summarized it.

The outcomes were astonishing. On that single hour lesson, those students whom traditional paper and pencil tests qualified to be poor learners, were as constructive, creative, able and intelligent as anyone else. They were able to do something that I was not able to do, together with one another.


The case when a learner meets the teacher in the same field will be different.  For me, I will always be proud that the learners who underwent my mentorship will be better than me, at some point in time. Their success will be my happiness. I will be glad to learn from them. But fierce competition and overcompetitiveness undermine a teacher who does not anymore seek to be competent.

They are those who have been complacent and would just love to linger in their comfort zone. They are those who would tell their students this, “Look at you now? You’ve changed. I remember you were just my student some years ago“.  And when they hear about their students’ successes, they will say, “That was just my student before“.

I could appreciate it better said like “You have gone so far, and I am happy for you“. Is there anything wrong to esteem learners who have become successful in the same field where their teachers are?

It is possible for the learners to be better than the teacher. This is true in cases when their teachers were succesful in advancing the students’ know-how. Besides, the success of every learner should be to become better than their teachers. With this kind of disposition, teachers who strive to be better will keep on learning and improving their selves, because they want the learners to be better.

  1. loricapuno says:

    if one’s student becomes successful somewhere down the road of life, then his or her teachers are part of that success… cheers! that doesn’t preclude of course that a student should always be referred to as “just my student”; people grow & assume other roles eventually, and it’s all part of the constant cycle of change, so to speak… teachers should be big enough to welcome former students as co-workers or colleagues when their time comes… and it will!

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