One of the things I do in my life is to tutor in a women’s seminary in Jerusalem. They spend roughly two hours studying in pairs to prepare the material and one hour in class. My job is to assist in the preparation. After the preparation I sometimes have the opportunity to sit in on the class itself.
One day a student asked a question and the teacher gave a brief answer. Only in hindsight after I myself studied the material he had planned to give them later on did I fully appreciate his deep educational wisdom. One of the texts they were soon to learn in preparation for the next class was about to very much deepen their understanding of the answer to the question. It was then that it struck me. He didn’t say, as most good teachers would in such a situation, “That’s a good question. We are going to get to it later.” Neither did he give away the answer, because he wanted them to discover it on their own.
Without taking away the challenge of their self-discovery he managed to give a clear, short answer that sufficiently satisfied the student for the short-term while giving her the sense that her question was important and worthy of a thoughtful response.
I learned a very important lesson from this. It wasn’t only a lesson in teaching. It was a lesson in listening and responding to someone who is looking to you for guidance in a way that takes into account both that person’s perspective and your estimation of the process that will bring the person from here to there.
You don’t necessarily give them exactly what they’re asking for. You give them what they are ready for and need right now at this stage of their process.