I’ve talked about it before here, this idea of withitness that is truly hard to quantify when it comes to teaching, but I think it coincides nicely with the idea below. Both Dr. Cleeves and “Frank” would be traditionally characterized as “nerds” both by physical appearance and society’s intellectual qualifications. Kids react one of two ways to teachers of this ilk: embrace or terrorize.
Dr. Cleeves was wicked smart. So smart, in fact, that he held several patents that he created during his time in the pharmaceutical industry, a bit of information he shared with us on the first day of microbiology in my Junior year of high school.
“Frank” was wicked smart too. His collection of jarred specimens in formaldehyde gave his room a distinct Shelley-esque feeling as I sat raptured in both his Biology class as a sophomore, and Anatomy class as a senior. That coupled with his encyclopedic knowledge of tissues, organs and systems clearly matched the degrees that hung on the wall of his office.
Both men had obvious intelligence, and the paperwork to prove it. One was a great teacher and had to fight off students trying to get a moment of his time during his prep periods. The other didn’t make it past November before a student lit up a cigarette with her Bunsen burner.
What separated the two clearly knowledgeable men? Simple.
The Nerd Knack.
Dr. Cleeves provided us with a wealth of content knowledge about the inner workings o single-celled and simple life forms and showed us proper procedures for working in a lab; however, we never knew him. We never saw him as someone who was in it for us. He loved science, he loved figuring things out, but he lacked the capacity to share that passion with us. Soon enough, once the initial politeness of being in the presence of a learned person wore off, students were figuring out ways to disrupt his thought process away from nucleotides and towards the nonsense happening between the aisles.
“Frank,” played it entirely differently. From the moment you walked in, your name changed to something associated with either what you did outside of school, a sibling that had gone through the school, or something he noticed about you. How did he find this stuff out? Because he cared to know who you were and where you came from. Whereas Dr. Cleeves was literal in his definitions, “Frank” was descriptive and hyperbolic, often taking the time to find obscure images of things such as filarial worms, or onchocerciasis (all really, really nasty things that leave lasting impressions on adolescent minds).
One taught science, the other taught kids. And we understood the difference right away.