Grade 9. English class. The assignment? An essay on something we wanted to do with our lives. The mark? C.
I was a straight A student – how could *I* get a C???
With no small sense of indignation I approached the teacher and asked this very question. His response? “You didn’t use enough big words.”
“Well,” I thought, “I’ll show him!” That night after I got home from one of the many activities I was involved with, I sat down with my dad’s big ole dictionary. I looked up every word in my original essay, replaced it with a bigger word, and dropped the revised essay on the teacher’s desk the next morning.
My new mark? D.
With a sense of indignation rivaled by few, I approached the teacher and demanded to know why I had now received a D – after all, I had used *plenty* of big words this time, hadn’t I? Turns out he didn’t believe that I knew the meaning of all of them.
“Try me,” I said.
Word after word he gave me. Word after word I gave him the definition. Finally, he came to the word ‘repose’. “Oh, that one’s easy,” said I. “It’s what you do all day with your feet up on your desk when you’re supposed to be teaching us.”
I never knew a man’s face could turn so many different colours. But I did get my A after all.
Looking back, there were certainly better ways I could have handled the situation, especially now that I am a teacher that has experienced the joy and frustration of having know-it-alls in my own classes. But in my early teenage years, with a teacher who was using all the new-fangled teaching methods (such as group work!) and with my then-photographic memory that worked a lot better with book work, I felt a lot of frustration. I remember very clearly sitting down one week and memorizing my Grade 5 health book, and memorizing piano pieces came so easily that I often could play up to about a Grade 8 or 9 level without much practice at all.
There is, however, a difference between a know-it-all and an insufferable know-it-all.
My husband is a good example of this. He is a true polymath, a person of great and varied learning. But he doesn’t like to broadcast too much about that. While much of the Western world spends their free time watching television and sports and seeking general entertainment, he loves to study. Besides studying languages, some of his hobbies include astronomy, deciphering an ancient script, and mathematics. As in, linear algebra, LaPlace transformations, and other higher level math – he once approached the mathematics faculty at a local university with a problem he was having trouble with, only to discover that they couldn’t do it either! He writes magazine articles about history, politics, economics, and academic papers on semiology, little known languages, other subjects. He writes fantasy and science fiction novels for fun. There is not much that he doesn’t know something about. Our daily conversations often sound like a lecture hall or roundtable discussion, and are informative, interesting, and just what I love.
I was raised to always strive to do my best. I used to use the results as a standard against which I could measure others. But I don’t anymore. Now I always try to do my best because I want to be the best that I can be, regardless of what anyone else is doing. I was once told by a principal in a school that I worked at that I should try to be less enthusiastic because I was making the other teachers feel bad! But that’s not me – I love learning. I have taken courses at eight universities or colleges, studied at least ten languages, and am always looking for more skills that I can learn – in the past few years I have started painting, drawing, and knitting, for example, and I just started taking some classes in statistics and analysis in educational psychology. Indeed, in my faith we are encouraged to get as much education as we can.
I have had people tell me over the years that I was a know-it-all – and they meant an insufferable one. I know my grade 9 teacher probably thought so, and if I knew how to find him I would probably offer him an apology for the hard times I gave the poor man.
But, I am not a know-it-all any longer. I have incontrovertible proof – I only got 99.48% in my stats class.
(I didn’t say I wasn’t still insufferable!)