Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Please read this post carefully; there will be a quiz next week.
“Seven billion.”
A student in the back row asked a friend how many people were in the world, and I blurted out the answer as I was writing the day’s schedule on the whiteboard. I couldn’t control myself!
“Three-hundred million,” I added when he inquired (still talking to his friend) how many people were in the U.S.
Keep in mind I’m an English teacher, not a statistics maven, social scientist, or delegate to the U.N. I’m not even very good with numbers. I routinely freeze, momentarily clueless, when asked for my zip code.
Regardless, I’m cruising into dangerous smarty-pants waters.
I so do not want to be that teacher-person who knows everything. No, no, no. Please, angels above, don’t let that happen! Don’t let me become an obnoxious jerk!
You know her: the legend-in-her-own-mind teacher. The one who throws around snippy, offhand remarks like “of course that quote’s from Macbeth” or an “obviously the bird symbol reflects the character’s need for freedom.”
Some teachers set themselves up as the expert, the authority, the last word on subjects that aren’t even in the realm they teach. They own the subject: Medieval daily life, wines of the ancient Egyptians, sexual habits of the opossum. The ozone layer, weaving llama wool, gems of South America. Television shows of the 1950s, ecological impacts of microwave ovens, what provisions to take on a sailboat trip to the Caribbean.
There is no end to the obscure corners of knowledge some teachers will stake claim as their own. No one is permitted to know more on the topic; a sneer, snide remark, or a hostile dressing-down are dealt anyone--student, fellow teacher, or innocent bystander--who shows a little knowledge in “their” specialty.
I understand only too well how this ugly character flaw develops. We teachers have power over students—I remember being surprised when rooms full of students actually did what I asked them to do! I knew stuff students didn’t, and I was the boss?! Yee-hah!
Standing in front of 20-30 college students at a time, their eyes (hopefully) trained on us, we get used to being the authority. They raise their hands; we want to give them the pithy, maybe even witty answer. First we may confine ourselves to our area of specialty. As a fledgling teacher, I felt fairly confident addressing questions about the writing process, most grammar, the symbolism in Coleridge’s “The Tiger.”
But then… the power, the knowledge… started to go to my head just a bit.
If I’m smart in English… why can’t I be smart in… how many threads per square inch make a good sheet? The top ten NBA players since 1980? The date Halley’s comet will next return?
If I’m not vigilant, I may start sliding down that slippery slope of know-it-all-ness until I’m completely insufferable.
By the way, Halley’s comet is expected to return in 2061.
Do you know anyone who’s a “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong?” Do you have strategies for gently putting her in her place? Have you ever been tempted into know-it-all-ness? How do you keep yourself under control?


  1. I'm guilty of being a know-it-all. I know it's terribly annoying, so I'be been making an effort to bite my tongue...

  2. It's hard when we know so much, right? Ha-ha... thanks for stopping by, Vivien!