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John Marks, Published November 24 2012

Letter: Help find your inner genius

‘Johnny, let’s go out in the hallway for a moment, please.” I left the door slightly ajar to stay connected with the rest of the class.

“Do you realize what a genius you are?” I said.

Johnny bristled, “Are you making fun of me? I am failing half my classes.”

“So tell me what’s going on? I have an idea you might really like.”

Pausing with a deep breath, shoulders slumped, “Sure, what’s to lose. It is so depressing at home, my dad’s been out of work forever, and I just lost my after-school job. And I get kicked out almost every day from at least one class.”

“And why is that?”

“Come on, you know, Mr. Marks; I talk too much.”

“Do you think Jim Carrey and Robin Williams ever got kicked out of class?”

Johnny smiled.

“So, Johnny, what do you feel you have in common with these superstars?”

“We get to know our principals really well?”

“So, how do you feel when you are in her office?”

“Bad, and scared that she’ll call my parents – and I feel punished.”

“Well, let’s make a deal, Johnny. Because it’s not fair that you are being punished for practicing your best genius.”

“What are you talking about? This is crazy.”

“So, here’s the deal,” I continued, “This will help you get a really good grade in my class and your others, too.

“Johnny, I’ve noticed you are very observant, so you must have noticed the sad expression on Sally’s face almost every day.”

“Right, so who wouldn’t want to be her,” he offered.

“Why’s that?”

“Well, she wears the same clothes almost every day and must not be able to afford deodorant.

“And she always sits by herself in the lunchroom. No friends …”

“That’s another one of your geniuses, Johnny.”


“Compassion. Think Mother Teresa. Imagine your own mother, your grandma … understand?”

“Yah, I get it,” he replied, fidgeting. “So what does this have to do with my problems?”

“Here’s my proposal. I am giving you an office of your own here in the hallway. We’ll put two desks out here, and you can have freedom to walk around, get a drink and use the restroom without asking me. I think a ninth-grader should be able to handle that, don’t you?”

“Sure, it always makes me feel like a prisoner having to get a pass to get a drink or go to the bathroom.”

“Well,” I continued, “you do know what the only difference in the architecture of prisons and most schools is, right?”

Intrigued, Johnny smirked, “No, what?”

“Bars,” I explained. Johnny’s hearty laugh made us both feel good.

“Because I’m giving you freedom, I just ask that don’t screw it up for you or me, OK?”

“I think I get it, but why would I want to be all alone in the hall? What’s the big deal about that?”

“Good question. The other desk is for Sally because she is struggling, too. If you help her understand this class and participate more, I’ll give you at least a passing grade, maybe better. Depends.”

“On what?” he interrupted, “I don’t get this.”

“You and I have a lot in common, Johnny. I too got into trouble for talking too much. Thank God I stumbled into becoming a drama teacher, and it was only a few years ago that I discovered that talking is one of my biggest geniuses. Are you with me?”

Johnny nodded.

“Lately I have been realizing that a teacher’s most important job is to help all students discover their innate geniuses and help them find ways to express them in positive, healthy, beautiful ways.

“That was a big WOW for me, Johnny. Think of the jobs that not just need but require the genius of talking to be successful: teachers, salespeople, lawyers and many more.”

“OK, I’m getting this a little bit, but what does Sally have to do with all this?”

“Johnny, it’s no mystery that both you and Sally are struggling. The other desk in the hall is for her. She just needs someone to care, to reach out to her even just a little. And like I said earlier, that’s another one of your geniuses – compassion. I call this love-in-action. And it’s a karmic law of the universe: What goes around, comes around.”

“So, how is this going to help me? I mean I want to help Sally, but ...”

“That’s the whole point, Johnny,” I assured. “If you can help Sally to learn the class curriculum, you will also learn it; maybe even better. Because to teach, you have to know it yourself.

“Plus Johnny, it’s a win-win-win-win. Sally wins, you win, your parents are delighted, and the rest of the class wins because you are not distracting them when they are trying to listen. And I win big time, because – to speak my truth – it makes me crazy when I’m trying to give directions for our next project and you are getting all the laughter and attention.”

Johnny smiled and we high-fived. “See you tomorrow. Your office is ready ...”

John Marks is writing a book about how to discover your genius.