Thursday, August 23, 2012

Everybody is a Genius

This post is about where my blog name came from.  I'll warn you now that it's kinda a long one.  For some reason this post has been the most difficult to write because it's personal to me.  The idea behind this quote means a lot to me but it was hard to actually put into words.  For the past month I kept writing parts and then coming back and a couple times I thought maybe I'd just scrap it and keep this one to myself.  I finally sat down and just finished so here goes...

This is so much more to me than just a quote that I like.  I had kids that changed things for me a few years ago and made me realize why I’m a teacher.  Months after they left me I came across this quote and it just summed up exactly what I was thinking.

I think that all kids have some area that they are a genius in, yet so many of them don't realize just how talented they are.  For some of them, it may take years for their talents to develop, but what truly impresses me is how talented some of them already are as 14 and 15 year old people.  Over years that they've spent in school, however, they have ended up under the impression that "smart" means good at school.  If you aren't good in school and getting good grades then it automatically means you're "dumb."  Kids see things as very black and white, no grey area.  They overlook how good they are at certain things because they aren’t the things that are traditionally valued in school.  I hate this.

In school we value things like organization skills, ability to follow directions, complete homework, language skills, and other things along those lines because that's what makes a good student.  For a long time this was my mindset.  I wanted kids to be good students because that's what school is for.  I didn’t see the grey area myself.

I know now though that there is a huge grey area.  It's great to be successful in school, but it's not the only important thing.
  • I have a kid that can take a car apart and install new audio equipment and think nothing of it, but thinks he's "dumb" because he struggles in school.  
  • I have a girl that can't sit still and spends the whole day frustrated because she keeps getting yelled at to behave, yet she's amazing on the basketball court.
  • Kids that were raised in spanish speaking homes that can fluently converse in a second language at 13 years old but think that they’re stupid because they aren't that great at reading and writing in the language.
  • A boy that says his mom doesn't even bother to come to conferences anymore because she already knows what the teachers are going to say (that he's lazy, that he's unmotivated, that he could do better), but that kid makes the morning announcements for every soccer game because he's so good.
  • A kid that can care for an infant from after school until bedtime on a daily basis but thinks he's just going to keep failing because he can't get homework done.
  • A kid that is a professional DJ who can write up a contract and manage his own business but he puts his head down as soon as he doesn't understand something because he's used to giving up.
...and I could keep going.

I am so incredibly impressed by them on a daily basis yet they think that their skills are no big deal.  They are so talented, but think that they aren't "smart" because their talents don't quite lie in academics.

I’m probably never going to be great at basketball, soccer, or any other sport.  I’ll probably never change the oil in my own car and I’m most likely not going to be fluent in another language.  I'm 28 and I don't have a baby to take care of and there's absolutely no way I could have done it at 15.  I do happen to be good at math though.  Math is my thing and these kids each have their own thing.  Who's to say what’s more important?  Honestly, the skills that these kids have will probably be more useful in the real world than my ability to solve an equation.  I’m not saying math isn’t important, I’m just saying it’s just not the only important thing.

In recent years I’ve come to realize just how important it is to take a real interest in these kids' lives and to try to help them feel good about themselves.  I try to go to as many of the the sports games as possible and let them tell me about cars, or taking care of their siblings, or even what to do when you're walking around the streets of a bad neighborhood.  If we overhear someone speaking spanish I ask them what they just said.  They tell me about how much formula to feed a baby and what time is best to feed them if you want them to sleep for the night.  Those are the things that those kids are experts in and I want them to feel proud of themselves because they should be.  I try really hard to show these kids how impressed I am by their talents and that in certain areas they are so much smarter than I will ever be.

If a kid spends years getting beaten down and discouraged, eventually that kid is going to stop trying.  I can't even blame them for this.  If you spent 10 years feeling like the dumb kid how can you really be expected to keep trying?  These kids have decided that no matter what, they are going to fail because they just aren't smart enough to succeed in anything.

Once that kid doesn’t feel so much like the dumb kid anymore you will notice that they start to try a little bit more.  The way I try to make this happen is by talking to them and finding out what they are passionate about.  Once they start to realize that I care about them as a person (and don't think they are just another "dumb" kid sitting in my class) they start to put in some effort for me.  I start to become someone they trust so that when I tell them that I truly believe they are smart enough to solve a particular problem, they start to believe it too.  And I’m not doing it solely because I want them to do well in my class.  I’m doing it because it literally breaks my heart to have kids think that they aren’t worth anything.  They are geniuses and I want them to believe it as much as I do.  

When it came time to name this blog I couldn't think of anything.  I really think the name was the hardest part.  I tried to come up with something math related or maybe something with "interactive" in there.  I tried to come up with some play on math words and had nothing.  I just kept coming back to this quote because it reminds me how I feel about teaching.  It's special to me because it reminds me of the many special kids I've had that have taught me so many things.


  1. I love this post, and I'm so glad you shared it! You said so many of the same things I feel about my students, but much more eloquently than I would have! I teach 4th grade, but I've also taught middle school math and science, and I've always tried really hard to find out what my kids are good at, or passionate about. It's still frustrating though when you are forced to give grades that don't reflect how smart you know they are.

  2. What a great read, and thank you for sharing. The first day I read your post I smiled because I have is posted in my room every year. The students ask about it, think about it, and eventually get it. I love teaching it's my passion and it warms my heart when I read posts such as this or witness passionate teachers such as yourself. Continue to believe in your students even if their OTHER loved ones don't.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this post, this is EXACTLY how I feel as a teacher. I feel like I am swiming against the current of the way other teachers feel but I can't stand it when some teachers try to fit students into their little "boxes" or refuse to change the way they teach to fit their students. Every single child is worthy, every single child is special, and every single child is a genius! This quote has always been one of my favorites and when I came across your blog, I knew I would love it! Thanks so much for doing what you do! I teach Algebra and will be using so many of your ideas!

  4. This post has made my day, maybe my year! I teach middle school special ed and this is sort of my "theme" quote. Sometimes when my students struggle, I get frustrated, but I try to keep in mind that if I had to do things I was "bad" at, like music and sports, I would probably drop out! How brave of these kids to come to school every day, knowing they will have to spend the next 6 hours on subjects and tasks where they struggle and are often told they are failures.

    In addition, I love your teaching attitude. Yesterday we had a staff meeting and it was clear some of my co-workers believe they just teach, they don't ensure learning. If a student doesn't get it the way they teach it, too bad for them. I spent hours feeling furious. Your attitude brightens my day more than I can explain.

  5. I found this blog while googling the "everybody is a genius" quote trying to find a poster for my classroom because it is my absolute favorite quote. I am so happy that I did because after spending the night reading it, I fell in love with your teaching style. I am a first year 8th grade math teacher and am always looking for ways to teach math the way I want to teach it rather than just they way everyone else does. I will definitely be incorporating your ideas into my lessons (Integer Foldable already planned for next week!) and will attempt ISNs next year once I am more organized! So thank you, I think this blog just changed my life. Looking forward to reading more!

    1. Aww thank you so much. Definitely don't be afraid to go against the grain a bit if you know that your ideas are good! Your students will certainly benefit from having a teacher like you. 8th graders are at a tricky and they really need someone willing to put forth effort for them. Good luck this year, hope everything is going really well for you!! I'd love to hear how the integer foldable went :)

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  7. I have never commented on a blog before, but I just had to say how inspiring this post is for me. I am a second year fourth grade teacher and am going to incorporate ISN's this year. Your information about them will help me do that! Please know that your time and effort is appreciated!!

    The Einstein quote is my favorite, but your post eloquently explains the special meaning of it :)

  8. You have dealt with an important area of education. Thanks.

    Mother Nature has gifted all with something special. Each individual is unique. Any society has to develop a common system of imparting knowledge up to a certain level and then provide for specialization. Generally we allot about ten years for the common part of education; and then a middle level of two or three years for broadly choosing a direction; and then at the level of graduation, post graduation etc. we take specialization more seriously. Nowadays I think that the specialization process may be advanced. It may perhaps be a better idea if a child is given opportunity to choose the subject of his or her liking after the fifth class / standard.

    And there is also a need to increase the number of specialization possibilities considerably. In the modern context we need specialists who know more and more about less and less.

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