Real Teachers Reveal What It’s Like Teaching a Genius
If you spend enough time teaching, you're bound to eventually encounter a student with truly unbelievable brainpower. Here's how 10 different teachers on Reddit reacted to the young "geniuses" whose paths crossed theirs.
Once in a blue moon
“I teach special ed, and people talk about [savant syndrome] when it comes to Asperger’s and autism but the truth is, that only really happens once in a blue moon. I was lucky enough to teach a kid who was the genuine article. His grades were tops, and he taught himself programming and Japanese so he could go to Japan one day and make video games. We would spend his free time talking about astrophysics and recent documentaries.
“Unfortunately the kid had no ability to emotionally regulate, because that’s just how the condition hits some people. Loud noise and unclear rules could send him into a rage…I mostly just taught him coping mechanisms, and being honest about his feelings so he could tell when he needed to leave a situation. Oh, and I taught him poker. He liked the math behind the probability and I used exaggerated bluffing to teach him facial expressions. Great kid. I’m excited to learn what he goes on to do.”
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A genius by any other name…
“Photographic memories are insane. One time, a drama teacher made a joke that he would give an instant A to anyone who recited a Shakespeare play (a specific long one, I don’t remember which) from memory. So this kid in my class did nothing all year, and on the last day of class did exactly that. He would even tell the teacher when to turn the page.” Even those of us who aren’t reciting full plays are probably quoting Shakespeare in our daily lives without even realizing it.
“I hope he does great things”
“Taught a class for high level students (top 150 students in the district of 4,000 per grade). Lots of smart kids, but mostly hard workers whose parents had been coaching them on how to learn since forever. But one year, people started warning me about a kid that was coming in. He was supposed to be off-the-charts smart. Teaching these classes, the ‘genius’ term gets thrown around for the top five to 10 kids every year, so I mostly roll my eyes and don’t think too much about it.” In reality, reading and being attentive is what makes you more intelligent—smarten up with these wise quotes!
“Met the kid and he seemed normal. I gave him a hard time about being smart, and he said it was only math (‘I just started early. I’m not smarter than anyone else’). Then I found out he was taking advanced college math in middle school. Oh, sure. Just started early.
“But he was clearly on a different level in English as well. Never any errors in his essays, and always wonderful analysis of complex ideas explained in simple and clear terms. It felt like he had some cheat code enabled or something. He remembered nearly everything, and synthesized information really fast and in great depth.”
“Wonderful kid, too. Very humble…I hope he does great things with his gifts.”
You’re never too young to change the world
“Taught a kid from grades eight through 12 who invented an early detection HIV chip for third world countries. She nailed every assessment and her brain just never made mistakes. She already has been on TED. Very proud to have helped her on her first Science Fair.” Check out the student’s TED Talk here.
The human calculator
“Had a kid in my class that was 15 or 16 when I was his teacher. His math skills were beyond amazing; he read, understood, and solved equations that most university graduates can spend hours on, in his head. In minutes.
“One time a group of kids tested how quick he was at solving [problems] without a calculator. They would ask something like: ’21+477+59−334835+3-213/6721−623,’ and just input the thing randomly on a calculator. The kid knew the answer before they hit the equal sign. I was completely baffled.
“He also knew how to recite pi to the 200th digit or something like that. He memorized it through weird mnemonics: ‘3 is a cat that is next to the tree which is 1 that is next to a boat…’ and so on.”
Having an incredible memory like that might not be so out of reach. Here’s how you can train your own memory to stretch its limits.
“I was going to do more, but…”
“I teach Algebra 2 Advanced at a rural public school—usually sophomores. One year I got a freshman girl in my class. Whatever, there have been freshmen in my class before, so I wasn’t too thrown off.
“A week went by and I went online to check the progress of my students…I assigned Chapter 1, 95 topics, to be done by the end of the first month. The freshman girl had finished Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4. In a week. I was floored. That was around 250 topics. That put her about 70% of the way done with the course.
“I asked her about it [and she said]: ‘I was going to do more, but I decided that was enough.’ What?!
“She ended up finishing Algebra 2 in [around] three weeks and then moved on to an online self-paced Pre-Calculus course. She finished that before the end of the first semester. The girl ended up finishing through…Linear Algebra or Differential Equations (can’t remember which) by the end of her high school career and ended up going to Cornell.”
You don’t have to have a genius-level IQ to master these habits of straight-A students.
When the teacher becomes the taught
“I teach English to little kids in France, I had a five-year-old (who speaks English, French, and Russian) explain the International Phonetic Alphabet to me: names of symbols, sounds, and why it’s useful. I don’t know where to draw the ‘genius’ line, but that kid was definitely something special. Also he was just the coolest little dude out there.” With all the languages he knows, this kid’s probably on his way to becoming a future CEO!
“I was floored”
“I have several students this year who are very smart and in the gifted program. This year I have an actual genius in my class, only he has completely flown under the radar until this year. His father went to jail this year and he is an [English as a Second Language] student. I think because of his lack of knowledge of English it was never assumed he was so smart. I discovered it about two weeks ago and I’m in the process of getting him services. We had to give tests to see where the kids were in relation to grade level. I gave a test that spanned from first to twelfth grade math questions. (I teach fifth.) The kid aced the test. I’m talking geometry and algebraic equations for seniors in high school. I was floored.
“I then gave him some ‘extra homework’ with some college level problems, and he passed. This is a kid with a broken home life; his parents don’t speak English, he barely speaks English, and he is killing it in math. I brought it to the attention of my SAT team, and they said his reading and writing scores are not at grade level, so that is why he doesn’t receive gifted services. I’m trying to change that because he needs to be challenged. In the meantime I’m brushing up on my advanced mathematics to help him.” Learn how to spot 11 signs that you’re raising gifted children.
As clever as he was cluttered
“His name was Thomas. A lot of kids called him Edison because he was a pure genius. Math, English, History, Science, and Reading were a breeze for him. He always asked me what subjects I was going to teach next year, because he wanted to study them during the summer to get a head start. Thomas always knew the answer. Passed every test with flying colors. He was so smart. His college Algebra teacher had to give him complex math problems during class to keep him still. He would stare at the workbook for five seconds and do the classwork and homework in under ten minutes. I think his science teacher made him memorize the periodic table and all the elements.
“But this poor kid was the messiest person I ever met. His backpack was a black hole of wonder. Full of mystery and clutter.
“After graduation…his parents moved back to England, and Thomas started school at Oxford University.” It may surprise you, but messiness actually could be a sign of genius!
Nurture, not nature
“I teach music. I remember one five-year-old who came to class the first day knowing how to read and write basic rhythms, something the curriculum didn’t expect her to do until third grade. She also could match pitch with her voice and had great singing technique…I think it had to do mostly with just great authentic exposure to music and really to everything in life. Her parents were extremely intelligent and I think [they] really had a good grasp on how to raise a well-rounded child.”