Why kids are smarter than you
Here’s the thing. The kids are smarter than you. They are brilliant, funny, creative, and perceptive. They will blow you away if you open yourself to it. I cannot say this enough: If you’re listening, they will teach you more than you will teach them.
It’s the reason why the student-teacher relationship is considered sacred in so many cultures. It’s why it’s possible to teach for thirty years and not burn out. This thing we call “teaching” (a conceit that negates the fact that we are also “learners”) should be life-giving, even if it achieves the opposite effect in many of our stressed-out, exhausted colleagues.
But you simply cannot, under any circumstances, worry about the students being smarter than you. This suggests that you are not okay with the very real possibility that they are. And that kind of insecurity will lead you to resist (on a conscious or subconscious level) any attempt by students to reach higher than you are able to reach. Which is cardiac arrest to a classroom?
Like with any leader unsure of himself, ego and self-image will start to come before results. Or as Marsellus Wallace said in Pulp Fiction, “That’s pride teasing with you. You’ve got to fight through that stuff.”
There is a reason that in our stories and myths the student inevitably surpasses the master. The best teachers don’t fight this – they facilitate it.
Equally important is that you cannot, under any circumstances, think that you are smarter than your students. This kind of foolish arrogance will blind you to your students’ brilliance. Your students may not be smarter than you in the context that you’re comfortable operating within—of course, you know your subject matter best, and you’re the only adult in the room—but spend a couple of days in their shoes and you will see all of the ways in which they are smart. Within the context of their lives, in their neighborhoods, their homes, in all the ways it is to be them, they are brilliant.
I have witnessed teachers respond in bewildering ways to the natural intelligence of their students. Either they gloss over a really insightful comment because they don’t want to show that they didn’t think of that, or they’re so convinced that their students aren’t on their level that they literally don’t hear the really smart thing that was just said.
This isn’t to say that you don’t have things to teach your students. Of course, you do. You’re brilliant too. But your classroom is not the place for you to be brilliant (in an ostentatious kind of way, that is). It’s where your students get to be. If your delicate ego can’t handle this, well, I hear they’re looking for managers at Jamba Juice.