In my experience as a teacher, I have generally found that there are very few surprises when predicting which students will succeed or fail in school and beyond. The students who succeed and become leaders are inevitably the ones who work hard, follow the rules, and take relatively few risks. The students at the bottom and who are the most likely to drop out are the ones who refuse to work, break the rules, and disrespect authority. While feel-good movies like Good Will Hunting or Stand and Deliver show unsuspecting misfits succeeding, this rarely happens in reality.
Or at least, it doesn’t happen in same way. Every so often, there have been a few unsuspecting students who will surprise me by showing an unusual ability—despite their bad attitudes and lack of a work ethic. However, it doesn’t come out of nowhere like it does with Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting, nor does some heroic teacher bring it out of them like Jaime Escalante does in Stand and Deliver.
This ability comes from the student teaching himself in his free time. While he sleeps in class, he will read and write tirelessly on message boards online. As his textbooks and papers remain sealed in his backpack for the whole year, he will read his articles and posts voraciously. While he ignores his teacher’s lectures in class, he will attentively consume every word of a podcaster or YouTube producer on his smartphone at home. When the time comes to take a test like the SAT or AP Exam, these habits trained into his mind will enable him to score much higher than many of his peers. He exemplifies Mark Twain’s famous quote, “I have never let my schooling get in the way of my education.”