Teachers help cultivate the promise in every student that crosses the threshold to their classrooms, but some students come on -- maybe once in a career -- that surpass all expectations. A true genius. Someone that tests off the charts or can recite the entire periodic table.
[Serious] Teachers of Reddit: Have you ever taught a legitimate genius? What made them so smart?
Here were some of the answers.
I've had some really, really bright kids in my classes over the years. Perfect ACT's, a kid on Jeopardy, Ivy League schools. But I think "M" might be the brightest I've ever had and quite possibly a genius. He took several AP tests without having taken the class and scored 5's. He didn't really self study them either. He just knew the subject. The AP Physics C teacher wasn't happy about it.
He was genuinely curious. Shows up at my door with an old smoke detector and CRT tv monitor and wants to experiment with the radioisotopes. I had to shoot that one down. Looked beyond the labs we were doing to find the more obscure uses or derivations that come from the lab, like the relationship between molar mass and specific heat capacity for some metals. And he understood it all. Every bit. Didn't pay attention in class because he was constantly looking something up. Incredibly frustrating for some of the other teachers.
He wasn't too interested in homework but his English teacher commented that the one paper he did turn in was an original analysis out of this world - and she's a top notch teacher. He rarely used my methods for solving problems. He would develop his own that actually showed a deeper understanding of the relationships involved and it worked. Every time. Rarely was there a situation where I was actually teaching him. It was more me introducing something to him and then he would go off and master it. Come back to pay attention for the next new topic and then poof - off to M land to just get it.
He isn't just bright in one subject. If he wants to I'm positive he will master whatever is put in front of him. I tried talking him into graduating early because there's only so much we can offer him. He was interested but didn't get support from home. So I tried talking him into taking some CTE classes - like welding, autos, mechatronics. We'll see if he shows up next year.
As you would expect he's socially awkward and does not understand why other students don't get it. Comes off as cocky but he's not. I think he feels that everyone is this way - just smart. I really like the kid but he needs to move on
My lab partner for college organic chemistry was a 15 year old high school freshman. He was taking it "for fun"since he had to wait for sophomore year for high school chemistry. He was the smartest student in the class, aced every test, perfect score on all homework, but was pretty clumsy in the lab. Gave me lots of laughs during our shared lunch hour. He used my cell phone every day to call his mom to pick him up at 5pm.
Thank Goodness For A Turnaround
I worked as a substitute teacher at a high school a long time ago, and I wound up getting the same girl in class multiple times over several years. Most notably, I subbed in for the school's AP Bio teacher for four months.
She clearly had problems at home, and maybe mental problems as well. Her clothes were always really ratty, and everything about her just screamed child neglect. She didn't seem to have any friends and she was hellishly awkward whenever you talked to her.
She was also one of those smart kids that wound up so bored with school that she just checked out completely at some point. By the time I got her in high school she never did homework and rarely did in-class assignments, and she almost never paid any attention to the lesson at all. She did just enough work to pass, barely. She just sat in the back and read or drew in her sketchbooks. Often the books she was reading were things like college textbooks or books in various foreign languages, and it was always kind of interesting to see what she was reading. She was an astonishingly fast reader.
She'd burn through reading assignments in five minutes that took the rest of the class almost an hour, and she'd understand them when the rest of the class was struggling.
Initially I wrote her off as just being a slacker, until I subbed for that AP Bio class. Every test I gave out, she'd get every question right, and her essay answers were absolutely flawless and often really interesting. The first time this shocked me, because again this was a student that never did ANY work and never paid attention at all. And she blitzed through the test twice as fast as everyone else, and got a perfect score when even the best and brightest students were struggling to get Bs.
When the AP tests came around, she took several including some for subjects she didn't take the class for, and as far as I know she got a 5 on all of them. I'm sure her ACT and SAT scores were equally amazing.
I don't know what made her so smart. She clearly had an amazing memory and was just... smarter than the average kid I guess. Or, smarter in some ways.
I've kept track of her on social media over the years. She never went to college and for a while it looked like she was just going to burn out completely. It was pretty sad. But eventually things turned around. She owns a company now and seems to be pretty damn successful.
He built a solar powered motor for our class's robot. He wanted to be an electrical engineer when he grew up.
His parents and K teacher thought he might be on the autism spectrum because he was so strange and awkward. He didn't have any friends. He didn't really talk to anyone. Each year I usually have one or two students that I pick out as a priority. I make a goal to help that child achieve something outside of academics. That year my goal was to get this genius out of his shell and interacting with the other students. At the time I didn't know he was so smart. A lot of kids are good readers. A lot of kids know sight words and phonics.
It wasn't until we started doing STEM activities that I noticed that this kid was special. He really liked an activity where we built a simple circuit with Christmas lights and batteries. After that he started reading books about electricity and engineering. I got a circuit set for him to mess around with and decided that our end of the year project would be something with solar energy. That's how the solar powered robot happened. The other kids build the robot body and he put together the solar panel and motor. It was awesome.
He was a funny little guy, but it wasn't 6 year old humor so he never spoke up. I wrote a comment in his weekly journal telling him he was funny. From that point on he opened up and crack jokes. Even if the kids didn't get it, I would laugh and they would follow suit. He became very popular with the other students. They looked up to him.
When I was in high school, there was a kid one grade older than me who was the smartest kid I knew at the time. Very bright, kind person, an excellent mathematician. He would regularly get perfect scores on tests and studied some advanced topics outside of class. He went on to study physics at MIT.
My high school was right next to an elementary school. One day, these parents hired this smart kid to tutor their 7-year old child in math. And when I say "tutor him in math" I mean "teach him calculus".
I would walk by a math classroom after school and see this 18-year old drawing gradients on paraboloids (so early vector calculus stuff) and lecturing a 7-year old. The older kid said once that "that kid's brain has many, many more clock cycles than mine."
When Kids Love To Learn
I have. The student could learn complex concepts in the span of minutes. Kid once missed an entire unit that I taught over the course of several weeks. I spent 20 minutes with her when she got back, explaining and drawing diagrams and she got it...and got it better than anyone else in the class had. It was so much fun teaching her!
Good Will HuntingGiphy
Yep. A medical resident. Reminded me of Good Will Hunting guy. His own history, as he'd tell it, was "I had 3 last names before I was 18. My dad was in prison for as long as I can remember and will be in prison forever. You can check my family tree as far back as you'd like: I'm the first one to ever attend college."
Scary smart. He learned Hungarian in his spare time as a trick to play on his (Hungarian) wife. When I first met him as a student I understood he spoke a lot of languages so I asked him if he could speak to a Greek patient. "I did not speak Greek". That was Monday. On Wednesday he was asking the patient simple questions in full sentences and understanding the answer. I was annoyed and asked him "hey I thought you didn't SPEAK Greek!?" Him: "I didn't. On Monday".
You could make an entire career of following him around with a notebook and writing down his many good ideas, big and small, about literally everything (which he seems to forget as soon as hey comes up with them). I do ok. I am a professor of surgery. I don't have any of this guy's pure mental horsepower.
I still know him and he's still white hot bright. But very much an easygoing dude, and still sometimes a product of a rough and tumble Early life. Years ago, I had to explain to him (back to Good Will Hunting guy idea) "you can't beat anyone be up in the hospital no matter how much they annoy you". Him, incredulous "never? But what if they do X?"
"No. Never". "But what if they do Y". "No. No beating up, ever, in the hospital."
I attended math classes with someone that was a literal rainman. As a junior he completed all the undergraduate and masters level math courses his elite university had to offer. They sent him to a special math program we were both in to challenge him further. He skipped 16 weeks of our very difficult advanced graduate level math courses to play video games, but aced his midterms and final exams (which included oral exams). He scored perfect on every standardized test he took including SAT, GRE, Math GRE.
I never saw him put any effort whatsoever into anything he did. He also published in difficult areas of pure mathematics as an undergrad. He seemed to know everything about math and seemed as if his professors were below him. He ended up completing a PhD from an elite university in pure math. One of the smartest people I ever met. He was also very bizarre in his behavior.
Historic Genius MovementGiphy
Unquestionably a musician I've worked with is on the genius spectrum. Only one example being: We were playing a movement from John William's Five Sacred Trees concerto for basoon. It's actually quite modernist and not at all repetitive or "popular" sounding. Well... he left his percussion part at home and the show was starting in the next hour. Without skipping a beat, upon realizing he didn't have the auxiliary percussion part (which contains many different instruments all on one page), he pulled out his manuscript paper and wrote, from memory without consulting other parts or the score, his part perfectly. All different instruments, many time changes, measures of rest etc... Genius indeed and this is only one instance....
Kid came to Australia at 15 from Somali, never went to school in Somali . Both parents dead. He walked his two younger siblings out of Somali to Ethopia using a map he found. Then he came to Australia and entered into school. Picked up English and math so fluently he was able to graduate high school in 4 years.
He's doing computer science at uni now. If that kid had grown up in Australia he'd be on the news for being in uni at 12.
I'm a substitute teacher and I went to cover a middle school math class. There was one very shy kind of awkward kid who was working on an assignment involving square roots. Without using a calculator that kid was coming up with answers left and right. I thought I was some kind of joke or prank but for the heck of it I took out my phone's calculator and asked him to multiply different three and four digit numbers
Without batting an eyelash this kid would give me the answers almost as quickly as I could ask the question. A few occasions he had to recalculate things in his head once or twice but it was scary how quickly the answers came. I asked him what it was like and he said that it was like having a tiny room inside his head filled with white boards. You can go inside this room to work on calculations. To this day I have not met another kid like that.
My buddy was a genius as a kid he could read something and remember it exactly. It was unreal.
Smartest dude I ever met as far as every single subject. Went to Harvard after high school and we lost touch. He's a judge now.
His memory was so good.
The Seven Ways To See History
My one/ favorite history professor in college told me about a kid named Gabe. Gabe wasn't great with math, wasn't great with science, but this kid could create a complex map of history in his mind to be able to explain a situation in history from multiple historical standpoints.
An example was when he was in my professors Nazi Germany course and my professor was talking about Hitler's takeover in a general sense (quick overview of the course type stuff/my professor learning what people do and don't know to shape the course a little) and one questioned how they let Hitler be elected considering Hitler's jail sentence and mein kampf. Gabe apparently cited 4 or so different sources of German people at the time as well as examples of sympathizers in other countries after the Nazi take over to explain Hitler's zeal and demagogue capabilities.. My professor still uses the sources Gabe cited because he wasn't even read on them!
A Genius By Any Other Name
I taught a girl who was an absolute genius. She hated it when I or other people called her that, because she didn't think she was.
The main thing that set her apart was her ability to understand a concept as well as the significance that concept had to other areas based on me explaining something orally once.
Most students wouldn't realize that class had started yet by the time she already figured out my lesson.
See, most students, after several attempts at me explaining something, will just memorize my explanation word-for-word and regurgitate that on the test because they still don't understand what on earth you're talking about. Bright students? They actually figure out what you're talking about and can explain it in their own words. But this girl? She not only understood, but then applied it to other areas. That's why she was brilliant.
I once taught a four year old Chinese kid who really enjoyed talking about the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Nature Vs. Nurture
Yep, a few. One was a genius in math (not the subject i teach), and the other is a genius when it comes to writing/research/reasoning/etc.
What makes them both so smart is probably a combination of environment (they both have very supportive families), and an intense desire to learn on their own. Both of these guys did way more independent learning on their own than what they got in school, and the math kid is now in grad school working on electromechanical engineering and has been published multiple times. The philosophy kid is doing his own thing and writing books.
I've taught for 12 years: all math Algebra 1 - AP Calculus, Robotics, Engineering Math, and Computer Science. All high school grades.
In that time, I have taught a lot of really smart kids. I have met a lot of really smart kids. I am not sure just how you are qualifying genius, but I am reading it to mean the truly exceptional student who displays intelligence in a way that outshines average "best" students.
To that extent, I would estimate that I have taught about five such individuals.
What these kids all have in common is that everything came naturally to them almost like it was intuition. Tons of smart kids will get bored and actually do poorly in class (they don't do their "easy" class work). But usually the genius kids have a thirst for knowledge. They are inquisitive and motivated to find answers.
As for what "makes them so smart", I would say that their lucky genetics plus an internal motivation to learn is what made them so smart.
I will end by saying that I think anyone can be "smart" with enough hard work. Depending on your genetics, your environment, and your determination it may take a little bit of work or a whole bunch of work.
Several Types Of Genius
I've taught a lot of smart kids, and while these two stories may not be the most genius kids (I mean, maybe they were, but I can't really tell), they're good stories.
One was a little boy I had when I taught first grade. At that age he figured out that the squares of numbers always end in a pattern (0, 1, 4, 9, 6, 5, 6, 9, 4, 1 and repeat). He asked me what that was called and I didn't even know it was a thing. I spent most of his first grade year trying to teach him how to not be so obvious when he thought people were wasting his time. The kid could already read and do math, but he did not yet know how to control his eye rolling. That was sincerely the most useful skill I could teach him.
The other was a girl I taught in 6th grade a couple of years ago. Her parents had homeschooled her for a while, and basically she just learned whatever she wanted to learn. That worked for my class, so she did random reports on the history of Chinese food or essays about her grandmother or whatever. Just recently she was part of a young composers workshop, and I got to see professional musicians perform her work. She's 13.
The thing is, geniuses don't always do stereotypically genius things. The boy from the first story is now attending a pretty average state university. I'm sure he will always be smart and always be great at what he does, but that super amazing genius thing is only one aspect of a person.
A High Trajectory
I'm a preschool teacher so I can't accurately judge a genius or not. My students range from 3-5, but I did have one student that stood out. He was a peer (not special ed/not on an IEP) and he was one of our younger students (4). We would often let kids have some supervised computer time playing on a site with lots of letter games, math games, etc for all grades. This kid taught himself how to tell time, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and started division at the end of our school year. He had little to no help with the work. If he couldn't figure something out on his own he'd ask for help once and then be perfectly fine continuing on his own. He's going on to kindergarten now and I'm so excited to see where he goes in life.
Okay, I'm going to shamelessly brag about this kid. For the record, I teach high school Spanish.
We'll call the kid Jason because that's nothing like his real name and I don't wanna break FERPA. Jason played basketball and soccer. He was in Art Club and Beta Club and National Honor Society. He was even the Valedictorian. Jason basically taught himself Spanish 1, and by the time he got to my Spanish 2 class, had vastly surpassed his classmates. He asked great questions and even caused me to learn quite a few things about the subject. His Spanish was f-cking impeccable. He never made even a single B in my class. When we played games, his team always won. He studied hard, he was focused, and he was so fucking affable.
And he was like this in every fucking class, including the AP classes.
He went on to the best college in the state, full ride. He's done study abroad in several countries , and he's been recognized several times in the school's magazine. And not a single person has a negative thing to say about him. He's so genuine and good. He's a serious, preppy white boy that gets along with everyone: the athletes, the nerds, the goth/emo kids. He can even freestyle.
I've gotten off track with the question, but he just makes me so proud. Jason is a f-cking genius