How early is too early to be smart? Most of the time, an eager student is any teacher’s delight. What educator doesn’t want a pupil who is excited to be there? Some kids, however, take the word “genius” to a whole other level. When does a “prodigy” become “creepy smart”? Sharpen those pencils to these wild stories about scary-smart students.
1. Mommy’s Little Calculator
One of my kindergarteners just “knows” multiplication, and not just the basic 5s or 10s. In the beginning when his parents told me, I played along with 2×2 or 10×10, but you can tell him 17×14 and he knows it instantly. So cool to watch.
2. First in Her Class…in Scamming
I had a student sell fake raffle tickets to her classmates for a trip to a Disney World. She made 80$ before we caught her. She was 6.
3. You Will Remember Me
I was doing a 500-piece puzzle with some kids (I was a preschool teacher). We finished the puzzle, except for one piece, which was nowhere to be found. Kid comes in takes one look at the puzzle on the table, says, “Oh, are you missing that? I know where it is.” Reaches into another completely different 500-piece puzzle, rummages for like 10 seconds, pulls the piece out, and fits it in.
I ask him how he knew it was there. He said he had done the other puzzle for a bit and noticed it. I asked him how long ago. Christmas, he says? It was February at the time. Kid was maybe 5 at the time. Might be more memory than intelligence, but that was crazy to see. Such a great kid, in somewhat dire circumstance. I hope he’s gotten all the opportunities he deserved.
4. Look Who’s Talking
I work with 18-24-month-olds, and we have an 18-month-old who can have literal conversations. Perfect sentence structures, perfect verb conjugation, perfect pronunciation (even L and R!). Knows all the alphabets, numbers, colors, shapes, by sight. Some of the others know some of those things, but I’ve never seen a baby this advanced.
I sometimes forget that she’s only one year old because she seems more like 3.5, if not more. But no, she’s just tiny like a one year old. Her dad brought her back from a baby checkup telling us that the doctor asked, “Does she say any words yet?” and we all laughed extremely hard because, yes, she has full conversations!
5. Little Sister, Big Brain
Not a teacher, but a proud big brother. My baby sister was 5 when I came home from college for the summer after actually figuring out calculus. And I explained it to her. And she wrote it down in her journal. Yes, she kept one from the time she was about 4. Fast forward after she skipped a few grades in elementary school, and she was taking calculus in high school.
At the time, she could not understand why it was so easy for her. Then she reread her journal, figured it out, and called me, laughing. She has a PhD in high energy physics and does research at CERN. Yeah, that stuff. Desperately proud of her.
6. Genius Comes in All Shapes and Smells
Kid took the fat highlighters, cut them open, removed the insides, and replaced it with weed. Sold them at school. He was caught, but only because a kid snitched after they were caught. Absolutely brilliant.
7. DIY Genius
We had a four-year-old in preschool. He was sitting under the table writing down numbers for a long time. He had no time to talk to us. When he came out and we looked at what he had been doing, he said he wrote down all the multiplications. It turns out his brother in 5th grade was learning the multiplication table, and this little brother really wanted to do the same, but he did not have a multiplication table.
He counted on his fingers to add each column and got the table right. A few days later, he knew multiplication. He would also comment on dates. If someone told him they had their birthday on June 12, he would say “That is in 184 days” almost immediately. On an excursion, we passed some statues with birth and death dates, and he would casually sum up: He was 78 years and 110 days old, she was born 33 years and 120 days before him, etc.
I think he was maybe more focused and willing to understand, than necessarily so smart. This kid is really the whole package. He is enthusiastic about everything. Gymnastics, science, art, math. Not at all to compete, just because it is what he likes. Other kids just follow him, and he is the often the center, and he is kind and nice.
I’ve never seen him push, hassle or brag. Just enjoys taking in all facets of life. I just wanted to show him I could see who he was. I treated him as an adult in conversations and feedback. He was of course childish in many ways, but behind the noise of childishness was a wise soul I wanted to know and encourage.
8. Sorry, Mom
Not a teacher, but a kid in my grade ended up taking courses two years ahead of the rest of us advanced kids. The funny part was that he skipped his own mother’s class and wrote novels during middle school math. He’s published 3 books and currently has over 95% in every class.
9. The Sound of Genius
I had a precocious, exceedingly talented music major who learned and memorized piano music prolifically. Other than natural aptitude, what made him stand apart was his positive attitude and receptivity to coaching and correction, as necessary. Each week, I’d give him more and more challenging pieces to learn, and he’d come back with them under his fingers, close to note-perfect, and played stylistically correct.
He recently completed his DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) in performance and is now in demand as a professional musician.
10. Too Little to Complain
I did my undergraduate in Massachusetts. On the first day of a poli-sci class, the professor noted that there was a 13-year-old prodigy in the auditorium. And that he would probably do better than the rest of us. So, we shouldn’t complain about having to write a paper every day.
11. Academic Angel
I had a girl in my high school composition classes who was, without a doubt, the most intelligent, gifted, and humble student I have ever taught. When she was in grade 9, I asked her about her post-high school plans. She said she did not plan to go to college. I learned this was because her religion frowned on women going to college.
She graduated early and asked for a letter of recommendation from me for a job tutoring for a GED program at a nearby college. She got the job, and she now tutors my significant other, who is working on his GED.
12. The Limit Does Not Exist
I worked at a tech camp over one summer. We had a kid who was about 9 or 10 and definitely on the autism spectrum. He probably could have taught the programs we were introducing to the other kids. He would complete his assignments super-fast, do extra projects because he was bored (he made a scratch program to draw Bézier curves…I still don’t know what those are).
By the end of the week, when he had nothing left to do, I saw him writing on a piece of paper. I look over his shoulder, and he is doing a 2nd semester calculus problem.
13. It All Started With the Big Bang
I worked at a special purpose pre-school that was designed for kids on the autism spectrum. I did an intake day with a kiddo (he was around 4 years old) where I was just trying to have fun and see what kind of things he liked. We did some time on the computer where we surfed around YouTube a little bit together.
He searched up a video about our solar system and began to explain to me the difference between the inner solar system and the outer solar system (what they’re made of, sizes, electromagnetic fields to compensate for distance from the sun, etc.). I had to Google everything he was saying, because I had no idea if it was true. Spoiler alert. It was.
14. Punished for Out-Reaching the Teach
Not a teacher, but I had a classmate who was (and still is) a genius. I distinctly remember him asking very complex questions on the current reading literature and making constructive arguments. It was over my head, but our teacher was offended and argued back that he didn’t understand anything, or he was an overachiever.
I think she was just over her head as well. She screamed at him and stormed out of class a number of times. There was a time she asked him to leave as well. I’ve never felt so bad for a classmate. He didn’t deserve to be yelled at like that. I believe he’s now a mathematician with published works and awards, as well as a successful musician.
15. When the Writer Leaves You on Read
I was a student teacher at the time completing my education degree. I taught 8th grade. There was this one girl who was your typical edgy, angsty 13-year-old who was too cool for everything. When we went through our poetry unit, we gave a project where the kids had to write their own free-form poem and put it to some sort of video or slideshow.
This girl wrote a poem about how the United States’ education system stifles creativity and destroys students’ joy of learning. I’ll always remember this one line from her poem: “I learned more from an evening watching Hamilton on stage than an entire year in a United States History class.” The video was your typical angsty black-and-white shots of her friends standing solemnly in front of or behind chain link fences with signs that say, “No trespassing.”
The next day, she showed up with a gigantic biography of Alexander Hamilton. It was bigger than most bibles. It only took her a week to read it. My mentor teacher hated her because she thought the student thought she was smarter than everyone else and was arrogant. Maybe she did think that. Maybe she thought we were annoying simpletons.
But I just thought she was dope as heck. This kid didn’t particularly like or dislike me, hated my mentor teacher, and disliked anyone except a couple friends. She was sassy. She was smart. She had a finely-tuned crock meter. She had a huge vocabulary and an obvious love of learning. She’d grill out book after book.
And where my mentor teacher saw arrogance in her poem project, I just saw a girl who was desperately bored and was asking for a challenge. I tried my best to give her extra, more challenging options in the future for her assignments. She never said anything to me, but I got the feeling she appreciated it, or I hope she did.
16. The “So Smart, It’s Not Fair” Fair
I had a student ask for an extension on their paper because they were representing our nation in the world science festival…They came in 3rd, and the paper was an A+.
17. The Language of Knowing
I had a student maybe 5-6 years ago. I teach social studies, so didn’t come in direct contact with the areas where she was truly special, but anyway: She could speak 5 languages pretty fluently. English is her native, she learned French in middle school, taught herself Russian and Italian for the sake of reading, and learned Indonesian from being around kids in the school and wanting to pick it up.
She could write music just from hearing it, then reproduce it with essentially no time. I don’t know if this is common or not, but it absolutely shocked me. She’s, bar none, the best student I’ve seen as a teacher with regards to conveying herself through written work. She graduated just a few weeks after turning 16. One of those kids who effortlessly glides to top of her class. Last I heard, she was about to graduate in something related to archaeology.
18. Brains to Save the World
I taught a kid from Grade 8-12 who invented an early detection HIV chip for third world countries. She nailed every assessment, and her brain just never made mistakes. She already has been on TED. Very proud to have helped her on her first Science Fair.
19. Recipe for Giftedness
I had a 10-year-old do a presentation on the creation of synthetic chemical elements for a science project. The kid was talking about Fermi and his work, he could have given A-Level students a run for their money.
20. The One Who Proved Us Wrong
During my Physics class of my sophomore year of college, we took a quiz using these clickers that automatically relayed the answers to the professor’s computer. One question that was asked to my class of over 150 students resulted in every single answer being “A,” except for one. We all wondered what was going on.
The one kid who put “B” was asked to stand up and explain his reasoning. Well, guess what? He explained it perfectly, was correct, and proved the entire class wrong, including myself. Not really a genius, but the courage it takes to be the one person out of 150+ to get up and say why everyone else is wrong is extremely impressive.
21. The Sweet Sound of Smarts
I teach music, and I remember one five-year-old who came to class the first day knowing how to read and write basic rhythms—something the curriculum didn’t expect her to do until third grade. She also could match pitch with her voice, and had great singing technique relative to how we want young children to use their voices.
I think it had to do mostly with just great authentic exposure to music and really to everything in life. Her parents were extremely intelligent, and I think really had a good grasp on how to raise a well-rounded child.
22. For the Love of Learning
A couple years ago, I had a kid in my AP Physics (mostly mechanics) class who taught himself the whole second semester of Physics and Calculus. He did this for fun, not to get ahead in school or for GPA points. I truly believe he was the smartest person in the school (both students and teachers). Not only was he amazingly intelligent, but he was also extremely nice. I can’t wait to see what he does!
23. Can Smarts Beat Sloth
I never had him as a student, but I’ve known him for years because of Science Olympiad. For those who have never heard of it, it’s a science competition with 15 students doing 23 events that encompass different areas of science. Some are test events (my specialty) in areas like ecology, circuits, anatomy, astronomy, and so on.
Some are identification events like Fossils, Rocks and Minerals, and Forestry, where you get samples you have to identify and then answer questions about (my other specialty). And then there are tech events where you have to build something based on certain specs to accomplish a certain goal, like a bridge that can hold a certain weight.
I did Science Olympiad for years, and have been assistant coach since I graduated high school. Now I’m assistant coach at the school I teach at. You can imagine that the kids who do this club already are among the brightest, but this kid is something special. He did Fossils and Rocks and Minerals for years. Since those are my best events, I spent a lot of time training him.
He would remember everything I said, and I’d never have to repeat myself. It got to the point where even as a 7th grader, I ran out of stuff to teach him. I was in grad school at the time, so I just started going over some of the crystal chemistry stuff I was learning just for the heck of it. He understood it and was able to explain it back to me.
We also played 20 Questions on a long bus ride and he guessed “whiptail lizard” in three guesses. His questions were “is it a reptile?” and then, “does it reproduce parthenogenically?” He’s going to be a senior now, and if he can overcome his laziness, I think he can do great things.
24. The Smartest Orphan in London
I work as a tutor in the care industry, giving kids who need a little extra help with their schooling. One of my students was a little genius; she came from a Romanian family and had been abandoned by her parents and left to care for her three little brothers. She still walked herself to school, miles across London, every day.
She was a real genius, too. Her spoken English was in a strange dialect, which I took to mean that she’d have poor literary skills. Found out that wasn’t so during her first English lesson, and knowing she was too grown up for silly little girl books, I recommended she read Twilight. She demolished it between sessions, and she really didn’t enjoy it.
She gave me full, interesting reasons as to why Twilight sucked and went out and watched the films because she wanted to see how it ended anyway. Then she told me Star Wars was better, and I realised I’d found a true genius child.
25. Picture Perfect
I taught kindergarten for one year in a Taiwanese private school. I’m a much better high school teacher, hence why I only lasted a year in kindergarten. I had a student with severe Asperger’s, and at the time I had no training in handling such students. His name was Kaka. I resigned myself to him running wildly around the classroom, chased by my co-teacher, while I taught the rest of the class.
He never seemed to even notice I existed. One day, I taught the kids how to draw perfect shapes by tracing blocks and make geometric patterns with those shapes. Later, right before lunch, Kaka was in a corner by himself, completely silent. I walked over to him, and saw he was drawing with shapes. To my utter amazement, he had created a geometrically and symmetrically perfect and incredibly intricate kaleidoscope of shape and color using every kind of block in the basket.
It was beautiful, and light years ahead of anything his peers made. He was 4 years old.
26. Reading up on Toning Down the Ego
I teach ESL in China and have this one seven-year-old student who remembers everything. He will read a word or a sentence and then remember it a year later and point it out in his book; I had forgotten it. I will say a word and he will pronounce it perfectly, and always will. He speaks better than my daughter and has a larger vocabulary.
I like him most because he understands what he is saying, reading, and hearing. He will often pre-read and understand it without being told. He used to brag and ask embarrassing questions, until I told him that he should be trying to help the other students, and that making them feel bad slows them down. Now, he helps the others understand the material.
27. Won’t Settle for Less Than Perfect
I taught Honors Algebra in middle school, which is a class for advanced 8th graders and the occasional super-intelligent 7th grader. For reference, this is a high-school level class intended for advanced 9th graders, so a 7th grader is advanced AND 2 years ahead of his/her peers. I had a 6th grader show up one year, which meant he was four years ahead of his peers.
He came in midway through the year. I gave him a book. On his first test, he got a B and had a meltdown (he was on the spectrum—an autistic savant type, and he wasn’t used to not getting a perfect score). Dude went home, grabbed the book, taught himself everything he had missed in a weekend, and got a perfect 100% from there on out. Insanely gifted and amazing that he could self-teach himself half a year in a weekend.
28. Never Too Adorable to Be Advanced
I work with toddlers sometimes, and there’s this girl that they moved up from the infant room at 14 months (we usually wait till around 18+ months) because she was so far ahead of everyone else. She’s 18 months now, and she’s fully potty trained, even wears underwear. She speaks perfectly clear, and you can have full blown conversations with her.
She knows all her letters; she can write her name; she can write her brother’s name; she can count to 100 in English, Spanish, and ASL. She knows a ton of signs, and not just the easy ones. She knows more than the teachers who are supposed to teach the kids ASL. She also recognizes her emotions and will come up and say, “I’m not feeling very brave today,” or “I’m feeling embarrassed.”
She can also sign to you what emotions she’s feeling. When we do magnetic letters, she will tell you the letter and the color of the letter in English, Spanish, and ASL. Meanwhile, I know a 19-month-old who can only say mama, dada, and no. Kids are so diverse.
29. Not One to Forget
A preschooler (3 years old at the time) could name any country you wondered about, knew all 50 states, and the order in which they became states, along with capitals to all. So, so smart. Reading chapter books. This student also could remember dates with their significance (birthdays, holidays, weddings, etc.) after being told once about it. Amazingly brilliant child.
30. When Life Gives You Music Software, Make Masterpieces
Music teacher here. About 7 years ago, one of my middle school students composed an original piece for wind ensemble. He had no formal composition instruction—I just gave him the name of some free notation software (Musescore), and he played around with it over the summer and produced a piece that was well orchestrated, logically organized, and contained elements of fugue as well as theme/variations.
I know it’s not Mozart composing pieces at age five, but it was still really impressive. We performed it on the final concert of the year. It was a darn fine piece.
31. Gotta Go Fast
I had one. I’d explain a concept once and I’d hear her go “Ohhh” in understanding while the other half of the class hadn’t even realized the lesson started yet. She’d then ask questions about the concept, in pursuit of more details, that the rest of the class would never understand. She just learned faster. It was also the fact that she outworked everyone in that class.
To be that smart, and then outwork everyone on top of that…she was just unbeatable. I was tempted to skip making test keys and just use her test as the key, because why be wasteful with my efforts? (I never did, though.) She read the textbook before each lesson. She was more organized than every other teacher in the school, never mind the students.
She never committed to anything unless she knew she had the time for it, and when she did commit to it, she would pull out every stop to make it happen. Other teachers were terrified of having her in class because she would understand the concepts better than they did, and her questions would often embarrass the teachers, not intentionally, but because the teachers didn’t know, and they knew she was probably right.
I asked her parents how they trained her to do that, and they said they didn’t do anything—she was born that way. I was disappointed by that answer, because I didn’t want it to be true. I wanted to believe it was possible to educate someone to be like that, because then that would place value on my profession.
32. Sing Your Smarts and Your Heart out
I am a voice teacher, and I have a student who is just an absolutely perfect example of aptitude. She innately understands the mechanics of her voice, and can make small adjustments and improvements to technique in the space of an hour that would take most other students her age—she is 15—months. Her athletic ability and innate body awareness are amazing.
The sounds that she’s able to produce—the brilliance of tone, the nimbleness of the voice, the musicality—are years beyond her age, but none of it is forced or manufactured. It just IS. It’s amazing. She also works harder than any student I have ever had, and she eats, breathes, and sleeps repertoire. She’s constantly gobbling up operas, musicals, and symphonic stuff.
I give her mammoth listening homework and she just goes bonkers. She researches her own repertoire at a depth that I don’t normally see in my college kids. It’s amazing. Add to all that the fact that she’s got the “look” (which actually totally matters for getting hired these days) and is a lovely girl with great presence and dramatic ability. I expect she’ll be at the top of the field in 10 years.
33. The Path to Math Is a Forked Road
Yes. He was seven years old, and we frequently got sidetracked during math lessons because this kid was always figuring out other ways to solve every problem. This kid’s ideas were so incredibly surprising to me that I had to listen to the logic behind them. This kid is now in middle school, and still hugs me when we cross paths around town. I regret nothing, and I consider myself privileged to have witnessed such genius.
34. The Art of Being Smart
I had a 15-year-old who was an art genius, as he was amazing in both sketching and painting. I’m talking professional-level amazing. We had specific grading for art, and he would often score a 98 or 99, but never 100. Every time he did not score a full mark, he would contest the mark and I would explain why (usually it was just untidy smudges when he was working).
He took the criticism well and submitted neater works of art ever since, so I was happy to give him the full marks that he deserved. Despite his talent, he was rather insecure. He shyly showed me a manga draft (which was again, professional level) and I encouraged him to enter manga contests. He was surprised, because the thought never crossed his mind, and he said he’ll consider it.
I don’t know if he ever did though, since I switched careers and am no longer a teacher at that school.
35. An “App”-petite for Knowledge
I had a kid program an original app that was almost identical to Uber, but for public transport, and upload it to his phone. It shut his phone down and overheated from too much pinging on the GPS. Dude troubleshot it and made it work. He works for Apple now. The kid’s a genius.
36. Up, up, and Away!
I had a 1st grade student who was obsessed with planes. He knew how to recognize the brands, knew serial numbers, what were special about them, and how they flew. He could draw detailed planes from memory starting from anywhere. One day I’m sitting, and he comes up to me and shoves this children’s picture book in my face and says, “Look at this plane brand name serial number.” I nod.
He looks at me with horror ”It should have four motors. This plane only has two. Without the other two, this plane just can’t fly!” Utter disbelief and shock. Then he just swirls around and goes off on his way with his little picture book. I also had his brother the next year. They looked like twins, but they were polar opposites in personality.
The brother was smart as well, but he had no particular obsession. He would rarely speak. He sat like a ghost hovering in the back of the class, but, boy, when he opened his mouth, it would be these drops of intense, incredible knowledge that would come out of nowhere. He never wasted his breath or energy for anything…
37. A Tale of Two Futures
I’ve been teaching for about a decade. I’ve taught a lot of smart kids, but there were two kids who were unquestionably geniuses. One of my tenth graders was intimidatingly more intelligent than everyone around her, including her teachers (and this was a “good” school with well-pedigreed teachers). She knew it, and she was exceedingly polite to everyone, but you could see the frustration behind her eyes while she struggled to communicate an idea to someone who just wasn’t getting it.
Her papers on literature were far more organized and nuanced than papers I saw as a graduate student in my Ivy League graduate program, including layers upon layers of footnotes and annotations. She spoke six languages with what I am told was equivalent fluency: Twi (this was her native language; she was Ghanian), English, French, Spanish (which she picked up while living in an area with a large Latino population), Italian (which she taught herself after learning Spanish), and Ecclesiastical Latin (which she taught herself at church because her uncle was a priest).
She also was an expert coder, which she learned to do because she wanted to be a clothing designer and hated every app available to do so, so she created her own from scratch. She read philosophy for fun. Unfortunately, while she was socially-skilled, she had the emotional maturity of a student her age, and fell for a 20-year-old with a motorcycle. She ran off with him rather than finishing high school; she’s currently in a business program at a state school, but she could have gone to the tops of the tops had she wanted to.
I’ve posted about the other genius before, but this kid was a high schooler at an international school where I taught for a few years. He was the top mathlete in the entire country where he lived, had pi memorized to some ridiculous digit, and was an amazing writer. He had drafted an equation for solving the Rubix cube, and had written an exceptionally long paper on it for a science class.
The kid was also a brilliant writer whose work encompassed themes beyond the scope of what I think he could emotionally understand (such as the novella he wrote about a young man’s psychosexual nervous breakdown after a woman he idealizes behaves in a way he considers unchaste). While he was very witty and often would write extra pages of hilarious commentary on assignments about literature, he was not very socially adept.
He engaged in some odd behaviors, like lying face down on the floor of my classroom during lunch breaks, and he struggled to relate to a lot of his classmates, although I think a little bit of that may have been an act to play up his lack of social skills. He currently is attending one of the top universities in England on a full scholarship, and appears to be planning to get dual degrees in engineering and medicine.
38. What, Like It’s Hard?
I taught high school math. One of my freshman students divided 1134 by 63 in his head in less than a second. I let him finish the problem, and then after he arrived at his answer, I asked him “How did you do that?” He looked at me with this blank stare as if he was thinking ‘You can’t do that?’ Then his answer stunned me.
He proceeded to say, “Well I doubled 63 and then multiplied that by 10, and then I saw that 1134 was just the difference of those two numbers, so 18.” Looked at me like it was nothing. I told him good work and moved on. I’m only above average at a few things, but one of them is mental math. But I’m not bitter about it.
When I saw that this kid could do this calculation that I couldn’t, I was so happy. It was one of my happiest moments as a teacher. I didn’t help him in that moment, but to know I played a small part in his math education felt so good.
39. Here He Comes
I taught a class for high-level students (top 150 students in the district of like 4K per grade). Lots of smart kids, but mostly hard workers whose parents had been coaching them on how to learn since forever. But one year, people started warning me about a kid that was coming in. He was supposed to be off-the-charts smart.
Teaching these classes, the “genius” term gets thrown around for the top 5-10 kids every year, so I mostly roll my eyes and don’t think too much about it. I met the kid and he seemed normal. I gave him a hard time about being smart, and he said it was only math (“I just started early. I’m not smarter than anyone else”).
Then I found out he was taking advanced college math in middle school. Oh, sure. Just started early. But he was clearly on a different level in English as well. Never any errors in his essays, and always wonderful analysis of complex ideas explained in simple and clear terms. When discussing novels, his analysis was stuff that I remember my professors pointing out to me when I was in college.
A lot of the time, it was stuff I missed or only got my third or fourth year teaching it. It felt like he had some cheat code enabled or something. He remembered nearly everything, and synthesized information really fast and in great depth. Wonderful kid too. Very humble, and if you didn’t know him, you’d think he was normal. I hope he does great things with his gifts.
40. A Genius in Need
I had a kid in my class who was 15-16 when I was his teacher. His math skills were beyond amazing. He read, understood, and solved equations that most university graduates can spend hours on, in his head. In minutes. He loved math challenges, especially solving things on time. One time, a group of kids tested how quick he was at solving it without a calculator.
They would ask something like: 21+477+59-334835+3-213/6721-623. They just inputted things randomly on a calculator, and the kid knew the answer before they hit the equal sign. I was completely baffled. He also knew how to recite pi to like the 200th digit or something like that. He memorised it through weird mnemonics.
Unfortunately, he was in a traumatic accident, thankfully no bodily injury, but the shock affected him deeply. His math skills are still very good, but he needs a lot more time to solve things, and he can’t handle any situation with the slightest kind of stress.
41. Too Intelligent to Respect National Security
My mom had a special needs student who went on some field trip to one of the NASA centers, I don’t remember where. His dad was an IT guy I think, and had been teaching this kid (around 10 years old, I think?) stuff on the side because he was ALL about computers. The kid wandered off and apparently found some office or computer lab or something unlocked.
He walked in, sat down at a computer, figured out how to unlock that terminal, and started browsing through their internal stuff for a while before someone caught him. He got in BIG trouble for that one, but I don’t know if it even registered in his mind what a huge issue that could be. He would do it at school and nobody cared too much, so I don’t think he saw an issue doing it out in the real world.
He came to my mom the next year (or the year after that) when his family moved, and my mom was warned not to leave her personal electronics unattended because he would figure out how to get in.
42. The Prankster Prodigy
A kid’s work kept deleting itself on a computer every few minutes. He was having a meltdown, and I saw it happen. It was impossible to explain the phantom deleting that was going on. Fast forward to the end of the class, and there’s one kid remaining. This kid was sitting at the opposite computer from the kid who lost all his work.
He looks at me and says “You wanna know how I did it, sir?” He had put in a USB keyboard into the back of the computer and had it set up so he could hit the delete key with his big toe. It was the funniest stealth attack I’d seen in a long time. Being the teacher, I should have done something, but it was too funny and smart.
43. Cinematic Brilliance
Yep. A medical resident. Reminded me of Good Will Hunting guy. His own history, as he’d tell it, was “I had three last names before I was 18. My dad was in prison for as long as I can remember and will be in prison forever. You can check my family tree as far back as you’d like: I’m the first one to ever attend college.”
Scary smart. He learned Hungarian in his spare time as a trick to play on his (Hungarian) wife. When I first met him as a student I understood he spoke a lot of languages, so I asked him if he could speak to a Greek patient—“I do not speak Greek.” That was Monday. On Wednesday he was asking the patient simple questions in full sentences and understanding the answer.
I was annoyed and asked him “Hey, I thought you didn’t SPEAK Greek!?” Him: “I didn’t. On Monday.” You could make an entire career of following him around with a notebook and writing down his many good ideas, big and small, about literally everything—which he seems to forget as soon as he comes up with them. I do OK. I am a professor of surgery.
I don’t have any of this guy’s pure mental horsepower. I still know him and he’s still white-hot bright. But very much an easygoing dude, and still sometimes a product of a rough and tumble early life. Years ago, I had to explain to him—back to Good Will Hunting guy idea—“you can’t beat anyone up in the hospital no matter how much they annoy you.” Him, incredulous: “Never? But what if they do X?”
“No. Never.” “But what if they do Y.” “No. No beating up, ever, in the hospital.” *doubtful look by him*
44. Don’t Underestimate Her
I worked as a substitute teacher at a high school a long time ago, and I wound up getting the same girl in class multiple times over several years. Most notably, I subbed in for the school’s AP Bio teacher for four months. She clearly had problems at home, and maybe mental problems as well. Her clothes were always really ratty, and everything about her just screamed child neglect.
She didn’t seem to have any friends and she was hellishly awkward whenever you talked to her. She was also one of those smart kids that wound up so bored with school that she just checked out completely at some point. By the time I got her in high school, she never did homework and rarely did in-class assignments, and she almost never paid any attention to the lesson at all.
She did just enough work to pass, barely. She just sat in the back and read or drew in her sketchbooks. Often the books she was reading were things like college textbooks or books in various foreign languages, and it was always kind of interesting to see what she was reading. She was an astonishingly fast reader.
She’d burn through reading assignments in five minutes that took the rest of the class almost an hour, and she’d understand them when the rest of the class was struggling. Initially, I wrote her off as just being a slacker until I subbed for that AP Bio class. Every test I gave out, she’d get every question right, and her essay answers were absolutely flawless and often really interesting.
The first time this shocked me, because again this was a student that never did ANY work and never paid attention at all. And she blitzed through the test twice as fast as everyone else and got a perfect score when even the best and brightest students were struggling to get Bs. When the AP tests came around, she took several including some for subjects she didn’t take the class for, and as far as I know, she got a 5 on all of them.
I’m sure her ACT and SAT scores were equally amazing. I don’t know what made her so smart. She clearly had an amazing memory and was just… smarter than the average kid I guess. Or, smarter in some ways. I’ve kept track of her on social media over the years. She never went to college and for a while, it looked like she was just going to burn out completely.
It was pretty sad. But eventually, things turned around. She owns a company now and seems to be pretty darn successful.
45. Swipe Left on This Genius
Not a teacher, but I casually dated a genius. Graduated high school in fifth grade, was finishing up a PhD in neuro engineering at an ivy league school when I met him at age 23. He told me that he felt really lucky his parents noticed his “knack” for building computers early on and put him in an accelerated program or else he thinks he would have become highly destructive as he got older.
I will say he fulfilled every stereotype of a savant you can name and then some. No empathy, emotional maturity of a 12-year-old, with the ethical compass of a graphing calculator—which is to say he was pragmatic to a fault and felt no guilt if he got away with something. But there were even darker aspects to his behavior.
He was into a lot of freaky bedroom stuff and he was actually astonishingly frank about all of it—this is admittedly what I liked about him. He also idolized Justin Bieber, BEFORE his comeback. One day I asked him point blank if it’s because he saw himself in Bieber and he said, “Come to think of it, yes.” What a ride that was.