Students as Teachers

To teach is to learn twice. – Joseph Joubert (1782) 

Several out-of-school youth-serving programs have engaged young people as teachers for more than 100 years.  Organizations including 4-H, the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts have long relied on the merits of youth-led classes to teach young women and men of all ages significant life lessons and invaluable skills.  

This approach has been valued for generations, witnessed by the many indigenous communities who have entrusted young people with teaching their peers for thousands of years. American colonists’ first schools employed young teachers, who in turn gave the responsibility of teaching to their younger charges.  Famed pioneer teacher Laura Ingalls Wilder was 15 when she began teaching.  

While young people teaching generally ceased in schools with the advent of advanced teacher education in the early 1900s, pockets of activity continued.  The 1960s free school movement recognized the value of students teaching students, and many instituted the practice as everyday experiences for young people.  

Throughout the past 30 years the concept of students as teachers has gained momentum as more professional educators are beginning to see its effects.
Meaningful Student Involvement recognizes the importance of acknowledging the knowledge of students, and charges them with the responsibility of educating their peers, younger students or adults.  Students teaching students is not meant to undermine the influence or ability of adult educators: instead, it uplifts the role of educators by making their knowledge and abilities accessible to more students.  A growing body of practice and research from the education arena reinforces the seemingly radical belief that students can teach students effectively, given appropriate support from their adult teachers.  

Students serving as teaching assistants, partnering with teachers or peers to deliver curriculum, teaching peers or students on their own, or teaching adults in a variety of settings is only going to happen more into the future, and I’m glad to have seen it coming early.   

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