When you recall your worst teacher (do this only if you are willing; memories can spark unbidden feelings), what do you recall of that person’s behavior?
Can you remember that teacher’s name? How you felt in that person’s presence? What you learned, if anything (besides fear or anger or disappointment or how to undervalue yourself)?
We learn to define ourselves through the eyes of our teachers.
Raymond’s 2nd grade teacher warned him, “You can’t sing; mouth the words. No one wants to hear a fog horn.” Raymond’s singing ended on that day. Charlene’s teacher told her, “Zip your lip and for heaven’s sake, stop fidgeting!” Charlene learned to be ashamed of her bubbly toe-tapping self.
Ask anyone to tell you about her worst teacher’s behavior. You will witness the hurt or anger or both that still burn, no matter how many years have gone by.
If you want to witness a completely different response, ask someone (or yourself): “Who was your favorite teacher? Can you tell me about her or him? How did you feel in the teacher’s presence? What did you learn about yourself and about learning when you were respected for who you are? When your unique intelligences were honored?”
I recall standing in the hallway beside Nelle Smither’s tweed jacketed, curly hair-haloed, wrinkled professor self as she matter-of-factly stated, “You can write.” Decades later, as I dedicated my first book to Dr. Nelle Smither, I saw us again standing in the hallway on that day when she told me I could write.
No matter how old we students (of life) are, our spirit can be uplifted or crushed by a loving or dismissive adult:
- Sidney Poitier was told, “Stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher.”
- Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
- Beethoven’s teacher told him he was “hopeless” and would never succeed as a violinist or composer.
- Fred Astaire was labeled: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
- Oprah Winfrey was fired from a job because she was “unfit for TV.”
- Albert Einstein’s teachers said he was “mentally handicapped.”
- Thomas Edison was told he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
- Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for having “no imagination and lacking in ideas.”
Can you imagine? I’m sure you can.
“Everyone is a genius; but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, that fish will think it’s stupid,” Albert Einstein observed as an adult.
IQ, EQ, Multiple Intelligences, Standardized Tests: We have created so many ways to define our intelligence, primarily from the outside looking in. Get a high enough IQ score and you can call yourself a genius. But, what becomes of the child whose genius cannot be measured?
Each of us has to find our own brand of genius, that one-of-a-kind, no-one-can-do-it-the-way-you-do it, glowing capacity to leave-the-world-a-better-place genius.
Fellow travelers can support you and challenge you along the way. You, however, are the ultimate expert on you. You have soulful intelligence: that inner voice that reminds you why you’re here on earth.
My friend Karen tells me she is meant to care for other people’s dogs; yet, she questions the value of that: “Shouldn’t I do something more valuable for the world?” she worries herself.
Give it up, Karen. To that dog and that owner, you are the most important person. Christopher Reeves smiled and said, “I could have just been remembered as Superman.” Instead, his legacy helps researchers heal spinal cord injuries.
Soulful intelligence: We all have it.
The gift is in helping each child find her voice.
The secret is in listening to our own inner voice.
The magic is in believing that what we are meant to do matters.
Written by: Holly Elissa Bruno
Best-selling author, radio host, international keynoter