A recent twitter poll conducted by Amjad Ali (@ASTsupportAAli) found that of 185 participants, a majority of 69% stated that ‘calling somebody a GEEK is a positive term, to represent hard work with successful outcomes.’
This astounds me.
Where I grew up, and amongst my own group of friends, being a geek was just…geeky. And geeky in a non-ironic, loser-ish way, like carabiner key chains, ‘World of Warcraft’, and anybody that’s ever used the phrase ‘Elven brethren.’
Any attempt to ‘normalise’ terms such as GEEK for the end purpose of making intelligence ‘cool’is, in my humble opinion, informed by my own personal experiences and nothing else, doomed from the off.
All this got me thinking: If I’m not there every lesson saying things like, ‘Wow kids. Aren’t books, like, soooooo cool’, what am I doing to make being clever, cool? Well, this is what I’m doing
- I’m really cocky.
Whilst I’m plagued by a crushing awareness of my own paltry contributions to the academic world of which I so long to be a valuable part, the kids I teach aren’t aware of this fact. In fact, to the kids I teach, it’s a surprise that I manage to squeeze my fat, bloated ego through the door every day. Because I’m always bangin’ on about everything I know. All the flipping time. Not in a bitter, twisted, ‘I know more than them’ way, but in a ‘I woke up this morning and I literally smiled when I saw my face and realised how flipping brilliantly clever I am’ kinda way. Of course, the kids laugh and they jeer and they poke fun. But they’re also a little bit impressed. They are plagued by self-doubt in many areas of their lives and I’ve shown them that simply knowing more than someone else is something that can make you feel good. Selfish perhaps, but true.
2. I’m really honest.
“Yeah, books can be boring.”
It’s the first thing I tell kids. I’m not going to stand there and condescend them by explaining that there’s a book for them and they just need to find it. I’m not going to tell them that books will engross them for hours and hours on end. I’m not going to say that books are the best things on the planet. Because, for the kids we teach, the best thing on the planet is anything which allows you to laugh at other people’s misfortune on the internet. What I will tell them is this: ‘You won’t reap the benefits of working hard or reading or doing your homework right from the off. These things don’t provide the instant multi-sensory thrill that Call of Duty can-and does-provide. But, if you want to ever get somewhere in life, you need to play the long game. It’s simple as this: smarter people lead more successful lives than those that aren’t as smart. So get smart.’ And I tell them this, time and time, and time again.
3.I teach kids stuff they’ve never learned before.
We need to work hard at giving kids the thrill that learning can provide. We can’t be complacent. As a teacher, I’m sick of teaching metaphor and simile year after year after year. Because of the benefits of overlearning, I do need to go over this stuff again and again, but that doesn’t have to be the sum total of my intellectual repertoire. And so, I go home and I read stuff. I read about polysyndeton, and anadiplosis. I read about framed narratives and compound-complex sentences. I read about ethos and pathos and logos. And then, when I’ve made sense of it all, I teach it to kids. They know with me they’ll get stuff that challenges them and they love it. They see me in the corridor and shout out words I’ve taught them four years ago (mellifluous, nidificate); they proudly tell me they’ve bamboozled other English teachers with concepts I’ve taught them; they come in and ask me if Martin Luther King was a man who used ‘pathos’ to great effect. And I tell them ‘yes’. Yes. Yes. Yes.
4. I let them see me using knowledge for my own advantage.
I recently got a class to learn, off by heart, Inspector Goole’s ‘Millions and Millions’ speech from the closing of An Inspector Calls. Staff frowned: “Why do they need to know the whole speech?” There are myriad benefits of knowing the whole of this speech, and if you’re someone who is also questioning the value of such a task, shame on you. Anyway, a few lessons later, when writing a question on the opening of the play, I improved my model answer by making reference to-and quoting from-the inspector’s speech that I’d also learnt off by heart, with the kids, some lessons previously. “Yes! My answer’s the best! Ha! Have that you lot!” I beamed. “I remembered the speech and it’s made my answer better than yours. Get in!” So what did the kids do? Whimper, whine and waste away in self pity? Not at all. They rose to the challenge is what they did. And over the course of a few weeks, kids were able to use their recollection of Goole’s speech to elucidate their analysis of other aspects of the play. Being clever had a practical advantage. It’s no longer just a status symbol (see points, 1 and 3, above).
So, that’s what I do to make being clever, cool.