My students think that I'm smart because I use "big" words. And they think I'm smart because I'm an English teacher who also knows algebra. They don't know anything.
Today, I realized that I've been out of undergraduate college for almost a decade (yes, I'm rounding up). Every so often I'll run across a paper I wrote for my English courses and think to myself, "Dang, I used to be really smart. What happened?" It's very possible (read: probable) that I was totally making up anything I wrote in college and was just really good at impromptu justification, but as I tell my students, 90% of people thinking you're smart comes from sounding smart, even if you're really not. My graduate degree in curriculum and instruction just wasn't as challenging. I didn't really have to analyze anything; I had little opportunity to flex my bee-essing muscles (like how I spelled that out?). My brain has gone to mush in the six years since I graduated even with that degree.
Is it teaching middle school that has compounded this effect? Reading chick fiction (c'mon now, it's feel-good stuff)? Science fiction (but hey, it's witty and nerdy)? Juvenile fiction (can I take back reading the Twilight series or one of the Gossip Girl novels?)? I mean, I still feel smart, but not as smart, you know? I would complain to Eli that at my job in Tuscaloosa I felt smarter than all my co-workers (administrators included) and that it was painful to be humble and hold my criticism. But when I sit in church I don't feel very smart, and when I am in a room full of lawyers, doctors, engineers, I often don't feel smart enough to hold up my end of the conversation, though I probably am.
I am vain about education. I value intelligence. I put a lot of stock in "smart." Admittedly too much. I was struck by this article I read, which appeared as the first chapter, "The Inverse Power of Praise" in the book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson. Read it and tell me what you think. I've been reeling about this for months, and I'm very careful in the words I choose to tell Elsie she's done a good job. And this will definitely tinge my interaction with my students.
But perhaps the biggest smack in the face (and dose of reality) was when I was excited about getting some board books and a book on early literacy for a coworker's baby shower in Tuscaloosa. I said to her after she opened the package and lavished thanks on me, "Your baby is going to be so smart." And she, the middle-aged first-time-mom, turned to this 20-something young married girl and said, "Erin, smart is good, but there are more important things I want my son to be." And she went on to list several of them, including compassionate, empathetic, just, wise, giving, brave, etc. etc. I felt like I had been slapped--but in a good way. Wake up, Erin! Wake up! You are raising a future citizen of Heaven! So, there's food for thought.
And maybe, just maybe, the Lord is trying to teach me a lesson in humility. Or in maturity. I miss feeling as smart as I once did, but I have definitely mined other areas for refining in this last decade. I'm growing, changing, getting better with age (even if I'm not getting smarter).