[I wrote this post when I was studying to become a teacher]
Last Sunday, fate arranged for me to eat burrito across from Ian, creative strategist, business owner, and writer. He taught me something in this school of life, and he can teach you. He taught me the value of intuition.
He came dressed in a sock
His sweater was a over-sized sock— trendy these days, I guessed. A pair of aviator glasses hid his bright green eyes. Despite his youthful look, I sensed his depth.
I wanted to know how he became a success reaching the top of every hipster’s dream, Mount Everest, Holy Grail – the advertising industry.
Ian had found his inspiration in some classroom, I was sure, or in some lecture hall, in some teacher. Armed with knowledge, he’d rough-housed in the creative marketplace.
Except he hadn’t. He started by selling shoes for Aldo. He became a manager. Then he became a producer, left, and opened his own company.
He never went to university.
“Didn’t need it. Waste of time,” he said, “school makes you complacent.”
I nearly choked on burrito. Didn’t Ian realize he was talking to a teacher? Didn’t he realize he was wearing a sock?
This man was the annoying kid
In school, Ian was likely the kid we teachers struggle with. He was the dreamer; he studied in his own world. He didn’t have the patience for calculating, filling in blanks, or discussing the causes of the Great War. Yes, Ian was “the annoying kid.”
“He needs to pay attention in class,” teachers must have been complained of him, “he should write essays without the pictures or the poetry. He should…”
…be unimaginative? A bore?
Looking for salamanders
Students like Ian are on the search for the unusual, the unseen in everyday life.
As a boy, Ian looked for salamanders.
“When I was a kid,” he told me, “my mom took me to the forest to catch salamanders. She taught me not to look too hard when we pulled up a moldy log. To catch a salamander, you have to be see the whole and the details.”
Now as a grown man, his powers of observation are occult.
“You see that man over there,” he nods somewhat discreetly, “he’s wearing a Zara jacket bought two years ago.” At every moment in our conversation, he can list off the colours, the brands, the condition of every customer’s clothes.
He points to my tiny black earring lying on the black tile floor, and it creeps me out. Has he noticed the run in my tights, too?
This is only half of my encounter with the annoying kid.
We are made up of three things
“We are made up of three things,” Ian continues as he motions with his hands, “we have our mind.” His hand hovers over his head. “We have our soul, and we have our gut.” He pats his belly.
Ian followed his belly throughout life. He paid attention to the voice within him; he ignored the voices outside him.
Intuition was his best friend.
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat
Three-quarters through my burrito, Ian spots a homeless man passing by our window and asks, “What’s his story?”
I’m not sure; I know only he’s a staple here in Streetsville— the homeless man who looks like a black Cosmo Kramer.
“Let’s go,” he jumps up, “let’s go find his story.”
“Oh, that’s great,” I think, “just when the burrito is getting spicy, we’re on an adventure for a story, a story we can’t eat.” I think Ian is rude. Or a weirdo. As I nod, and pack up my burrito, I mull this madness over. When the homeless man disappears out of sight, I sigh.
“It looks like he’s gone. Maybe we should just stay and eat our burritos.”
The classroom tug of war
We didn’t chase the story of the homeless man, though I’m certain Ian would have. He was more curious than I, and now I see it.
Our burrito affair was really a metaphor for the ongoing tug of war in classrooms across the country: it is a war between intuition and logic, exploration and structure.
The tug of war begins when a student points to a picture in a science textbooks and asks a question like, “What’s his story?”, and we teachers say: “I’m sorry. Now is not the time for stories. We talk about stories in English class, in period one. We will entertain that question and that story then.”
Often teachers win the tug of war. It’s sad that logic trumps intuition, structure beats exploration, curriculum beats awe. It’s also sad that we teachers have un-learned our intuition– here defined as the random urge to know.
There is only one solution to this struggle. We teachers must drop the rope once in a while; we must love and trust our own intuitions, and those of our students. We’ll be rewarded by the salamanders we didn’t see before, the tweaks in reality that make life a kaleidoscope of meaning.
And we’ll rest content. We’ll know we never trained a single child to embody that ugly, beastly word—“complacent.”