“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”—Calvin Coolidge.
It isn’t easy being smart—or at least that’s what Reddit had to say. When the Internet asked teachers if they had taught any child geniuses, plenty of other people chimed in on what it was like to encounter someone with a prodigious IQ. When it came to how one gets too smart… well, wouldn’t we all like to know the formula to a perfect GPA and an easy Ph.D.?
What these people could describe, however, was how geniuses truly come in all shapes and sizes. Sharpen those pencils 42 prodigious stories about what it’s like to teach, or be taught alongside, or even date, a genius.
42. Never Mind the Haters
I’ve had some really, really bright kids in my classes over the years. Perfect ACTs, a kid on Jeopardy, Ivy League schools. But I think “M” might be the brightest I’ve ever had and quite possibly a genius. He took several AP tests without having taken the class and scored 5s. He didn’t really self-study them either. He just knew the subject. The AP Physics C teacher wasn’t happy about it.
He was genuinely curious. Shows up at my door with an old smoke detector and CRT TV monitor and wants to experiment with the radioisotopes. I had to shoot that one down. Looked beyond the labs we were doing to find the more obscure uses or derivations that come from the lab, like the relationship between molar mass and specific heat capacity for some metals. And he understood it all. Every bit.
Didn’t pay attention in class because he was constantly looking something up. Incredibly frustrating for some of the other teachers. He wasn’t too interested in homework, but his English teacher commented that the one paper he did turn in was an original analysis out of this world—and she’s a top-notch teacher.
He rarely used my methods for solving problems. He would develop his own that actually showed a deeper understanding of the relationships involved and it worked. Every time. Rarely was there a situation where I was actually teaching him. It was more me introducing something to him and then he would go off and master it. Come back to pay attention for the next new topic and then poof—off to M land to just get it.
He isn’t just bright in one subject. If he wants to, I’m positive he will master whatever is put in front of him. I tried talking him into graduating early because there’s only so much we can offer him. He was interested but didn’t get support from home. So, I tried talking him into taking some CTE classes—like welding, autos, mechatronics. We’ll see if he shows up next year.
As you would expect he’s socially awkward and does not understand why other students don’t get it. Comes off as cocky but he’s not. I think he feels that everyone is this way—just smart. I really like the kid but he needs to move on.
41. Baby Bachelor of Sciences
My lab partner for college organic chemistry was a 15-year-old high school freshman. He was taking it “for fun “since he had to wait for his sophomore year for high school chemistry. He was the smartest student in the class, aced every test, perfect score on all homework, but was pretty clumsy in the lab. Gave me lots of laughs during our shared lunch hour. He used my cell phone every day to call his mom to pick him up at 5 pm.
40. Mr. Everything
I went to a small liberal arts school that very few people know about. There are much better schools out there, but this one is good and has a great culture and school-life balance.
I studied physics with about seven other students. That was the size of our graduating class for that department. We all had the same classes together, except for one guy. He wouldn’t say he was a genius—he was more like a DaVinci.
His father is a physics professor, and his mother was an Olympic medalist. His older siblings are all professors, engineers, scientists, etc. He absolutely slew all of our courses, also taking on an oversized course load so he could complete every physics and math course the school offered. He understands physics like I understand arithmetic, and I’m no chump. I got my degree plus a Master’s.
Guest speakers would come to show their research and he would very politely tear their presentations apart. This included bio and chem, which I had the nightmare of doing at the same time as him. I only had a couple of physics and math classes with him as an undergrad before we went stratospheric. He technically took the same nuclear physics course as I did, but he just showed up for the midterm and final—never came to lecture. He was doing Ph.D. level work with professors just to help them with their research.
He sang in the choir (soloed), played two varsity sports and one club sport—the one I played. I went on to compete at national and world championships, and I guarantee he could wipe the floor with me if he had kept pursuing it. He was in the student government, Greek life, and outdoor leadership programs. Great personality, well-liked, humble, charitable, competitive, etc.
Ugh. Forget that guy. I hope he goes on to become president. We should be so lucky.
39. Build Your Own Genius
I taught a little boy in first grade who was not yet labeled a genius, but I had no doubt would be. He built a solar-powered motor for our class robot. He wanted to be an electrical engineer when he grew up.
His parents and his kindergarten teacher thought he might be on the autism spectrum because he was so strange and awkward. He didn’t have any friends. He didn’t really talk to anyone. Each year I usually have one or two students that I pick out as a priority. I make a goal to help that child achieve something outside of academics. That year my goal was to get this genius out of his shell and interacting with the other students. At the time I didn’t know he was so smart. A lot of kids are good readers. A lot of kids know sight words and phonics. It wasn’t until we started doing STEM activities that I noticed that this kid was special.
He really liked an activity where we built a simple circuit with Christmas lights and batteries. After that, he started reading books about electricity and engineering. I got a circuit set for him to mess around with and decided that our end of the year project would be something with solar energy. That’s how the solar-powered robot happened. The other kids build the robot body and he put together the solar panel and motor. It was awesome.
He was a funny little guy, but it wasn’t six-year-old humor so he never spoke up. I wrote a comment in his weekly journal telling him he was funny. From that point on he opened up and crack jokes. Even if the kids didn’t get it, I would laugh, and they would follow suit. He became very popular with the other students. They looked up to him.
38. He’s Not Wrong
When I was in high school, there was a kid one grade older than me who was the smartest kid I knew at the time. Very bright, kind person, an excellent mathematician. He would regularly get perfect scores on tests and studied some advanced topics outside of class. He went on to study physics at MIT.
My high school was right next to an elementary school. One day, these parents hired this smart kid to tutor their seven-year-old child in math. And when I say, “Tutor him in math” I mean “teach him calculus.”
I would walk by a math classroom after school and see this 18-year-old drawing gradients on paraboloids (so, early vector calculus stuff) and lecturing a seven-year-old. The older kid said once that “that kid’s brain has many, many more clock cycles than mine.”
37. Fast Forward
I have. The student could learn complex concepts in the span of minutes. The kid once missed an entire unit that I taught over the course of several weeks. I spent 20 minutes with her when she got back, explaining and drawing diagrams and she got it… and got it better than anyone else in the class had. It was so much fun teaching her!
36. Brains To Take Your Breath Away
TLDR: Taught English in China. There was a 10- or 11-year-old who more knowledge on every niche topic we discussed than the rest of the class (which consisted of doctors, CEOs, scientists)
When I was teaching English in China, there was one kid who was just incredible. So let me preface this with the admission that I am not an English teacher by trade, I just needed a job to continue my travels in Asia so I worked four days a week in a school and explored China each “weekend” I had. With that in mind, I used to diverge from the suggested teaching a lot and I really enjoyed one class called “English Corner”—which was essentially an open lecture that all students could attend. Other teachers hated this class as there was little or no coursework available for them to print out, so after a few months, I was basically giving every English Corner class.
Now they suggested topics like Happiness, Studying, Sport etc.—mundane stuff. I hated that stuff and so did they, so I started exploring niche topics to get them thinking and sharing ideas—so we did things like the Fermi Paradox, time travel, cosmetic surgery etc.
Well there was one kid about 10 or 12 years old and he knew everything. He had asthma and was overweight and as a result he could only string short sentences together with each breath; but in everyone one of these classes he’d start a sentence like “Did you know [breath], that XXXX [breath], was actually YYYYYY?”…. he did this on every single topic we talked about. He was 10 or 12 years of age and his knowledge on topics not usually discussed in China was off the charts. These classes were for students who had advanced English, so we had doctors, CEOs, scientists etc. all present in the class and this kid knew just as much as all of them—I was just humbled by this kid’s potential and capabilities—I always wonder where he will end up.
35. “Pure Math” Sounds Pretty Cool
I attended math classes with someone that was a literal Rain Man.
As a junior he completed all the undergraduate and masters level math courses his elite university had to offer. They sent him to a special math program we were both in to challenge him further. He skipped 16 weeks of our very difficult advanced graduate level math courses to play video games but aced his midterms and final exams—which included oral exams.
He scored perfect on every standardized test he took including SAT, GRE, Math GRE. I never saw him put any effort whatsoever into anything he did. He also published in difficult areas of pure mathematics as an undergrad. He seemed to know everything about math and seemed as if his professors were below him. He ended up completing a PhD from an elite university in pure math. One of the smartest people I ever met. He was also very bizarre in his behavior.
34. The Song of Your Heart (and Brain)
Unquestionably a musician I’ve worked with is on the genius spectrum. Only one example is: We were playing a movement from John William’s “Five Sacred Trees” concerto for bassoon. It’s actually quite modernist and not at all repetitive or “popular” sounding. Well… he left his percussion part at home and the show was starting in the next hour.
Without skipping a beat, upon realizing he didn’t have the auxiliary percussion part—which contains many different instruments all on one page—he pulled out his manuscript paper and wrote, from memory without consulting other parts or the score, his part perfectly. All different instruments, many time changes, measures of rest etc… Genius indeed and this is only one instance…
33. Knowledge Isn’t Everything
My uncle is a genius. Has an IQ of 154. He had serious problems. He would always talk down and look down to everyone. He was the youngest of six kids, who were all smart, and as a child would throw fits at dinner saying how no one would listen to him. Obviously, his siblings didn’t give a crap and were busy chowing down.
In the end, he never really adjusted to life or kept a job because he didn’t respect his bosses. I guess it’s not the end and he’s still alive, but his personality and brains has kept him from really reaching his abilities.
31. Sounds Like He’s Doing Work For the Prof
My one/ favorite history professor in college told me about a kid named Gabe. Gabe wasn’t great with math, wasn’t great with science, but this kid could create a complex map of history in his mind to be able to explain a situation in history from multiple historical standpoints.
An example was when he was in my professor’s Nazi Germany course and my professor was talking about Hitler’s takeover in a general sense—quick overview of the course type stuff/my professor learning what people do and don’t know to shape the course a little—and one questioned how they let Hitler be elected considering Hitler’s jail sentence and Mein Kampf. Gabe apparently cited four or so different sources of German people at the time as well as examples of sympathizers in other countries after the Nazi take over to explain Hitler’s zeal and demagogue capabilities. My professor still uses the sources Gabe cited because he wasn’t even read on them!
30. Don’t You Forget About Me
My buddy was a genius as a kid he could read something and remember it exactly. It was unreal.
Smartest dude I ever met as far as every single subject. Went to Harvard after high school and we lost touch. He’s a judge now.
His memory was so good.
29. The Big Picture
I taught a girl who was an absolute genius. She hated it when I or other people called her that because she didn’t think she was.
The main thing that set her apart was her ability to understand a concept as well as the significance that the concept had to other areas based on me explaining something orally once. Most students wouldn’t realize that class had started yet by the time she already figured out my lesson.
See, most students, after several attempts at me explaining something, will just memorize my explanation word-for-word and regurgitate that on the test because they still don’t understand what on earth you’re talking about. Bright students? They actually figure out what you’re talking about and can explain it in their own words. But this girl? She not only understood but then applied it to other areas. That’s why she was brilliant.
28. Who Doesn’t?
I once taught a four-year-old Chinese kid who really enjoyed talking about the collapse of Yugoslavia.
27. Blaze Your Own Path
Yep, a few. one was a genius in math (not the subject I teach), and the other is a genius when it comes to writing/research/reasoning/etc.
What makes them both so smart is probably a combination of environment—they both have very supportive families—and an intense desire to learn on their own. Both of these guys did way more independent learning on their own than what they got in school, and the math kid is now in grad school working on electromechanical engineering and has been published multiple times. The philosophy kid is doing his own thing and writing books.
26. Baby Book Worm
I teach preschool—had a two-year-old in my class reading middle elementary level chapter books.
25. They Have to be Hungry
I’ve taught for 12 years: all math Algebra 1—AP Calculus, Robotics, Engineering Math, and Computer Science. All high school grades.
In that time, I have taught a lot of really smart kids. I have met a lot of really smart kids. I am not sure just how you are qualifying genius, but I am reading it to mean the truly exceptional student who displays intelligence in a way that outshines average “best” students.
To that extent, I would estimate that I have taught about five such individuals.
What these kids all have in common is that everything came naturally to them almost like it was intuition. Tons of smart kids will get bored and actually do poorly in class—they don’t do their “easy” class work. But usually, the genius kids have a thirst for knowledge. They are inquisitive and motivated to find answers.
As for what “makes them so smart,” I would say that their lucky genetics plus an internal motivation to learn is what made them so smart.
I will end by saying that I think anyone can be “smart” with enough hard work. Depending on your genetics, your environment, and your determination it may take a little bit of work or a whole bunch of work.
24. You Can Be a Genius In Anything
I’ve taught a lot of smart kids, and while these two stories may not be the most genius kids—I mean, maybe they were, but I can’t really tell—they’re good stories.
One was a little boy I had when I taught first grade. At that age, he figured out that the squares of numbers always end in a pattern (0, 1, 4, 9, 6, 5, 6, 9, 4, 1 and repeat). He asked me what that was called, and I didn’t even know it was a thing. I spent most of his first-grade year trying to teach him how to not be so obvious when he thought people were wasting his time. The kid could already read and do the math, but he did not yet know how to control his eye rolling. That was sincerely the most useful skill I could teach him.
The other was a girl I taught in sixth grade a couple of years ago. Her parents had homeschooled her for a while, and basically, she just learned whatever she wanted to learn. That worked for my class, so she did random reports on the history of Chinese food or essays about her grandmother or whatever. Just recently she was part of a young composer workshop, and I got to see professional musicians perform her work. She’s 13.
The thing is, geniuses don’t always do stereotypically genius things. The boy from the first story is now attending a pretty average state university. I’m sure he will always be smart and always be great at what he does, but that super amazing genius thing in only one aspect of a person.
23. DIY Prodigy
I’m a preschool teacher so I can’t accurately judge a genius or not. My students range from three to five years old, but I did have one student that stood out. He was a peer (not special ed/not on an IEP) and he was one of our younger students (four years old). We would often let kids have some supervised computer time playing on a site with lots of letter games, math games, etc. for all grades.
This kid taught himself how to tell time, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and started division at the end of our school year. He had little to no help with the work. If he couldn’t figure something out on his own he’d ask for help once and then be perfectly fine continuing on his own. He’s going on to kindergarten now and I’m so excited to see where he goes in life.
22. To Put It Simply
Okay, I’m going to shamelessly brag about this kid. For the record, I teach high school Spanish.
We’ll call the kid Jason because that’s nothing like his real name and I don’t wanna break FERPA. Jason played basketball and soccer. He was in Art Club and Beta Club and National Honor Society. He was even the Valedictorian. Jason basically taught himself Spanish 1, and by the time he got to my Spanish 2 class, had vastly surpassed his classmates. He asked great questions and even caused me to learn quite a few things about the subject. His Spanish was impeccable. He never made even a single B in my class. When we played games, his team always won. He studied hard, he was focused, and he was so affable. And he was like this in every class, including the AP classes.
He went on to the best college in the state, full ride. He’s done study abroad in several countries, and he’s been recognized several times in the school’s magazine. And not a single person has a negative thing to say about him. He’s so genuine and good. He’s a serious, preppy white boy that gets along with everyone: the athletes, the nerds, the goth/emo kids. He can even freestyle.
I’ve gotten off track with the question, but he just makes me so proud. Jason is a freaking genius.
21. A Megamind at Music
He was not only a genius but a prodigy.
My former piano/organ student now has a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) and is “in demand” for solo performances as well as concertos with orchestra.
He did all the work. I just taught him.
20. To Put I Simply
He won a silver medal at the International Math Olympiad.
19. The Precocious Paleontologist
I did not personally teach him, but he was a student at the school I taught at and the son of a co-worker. He was on Jay Leno as a kindergartner on account of his in-depth dinosaur knowledge. I don’t know if he was a textbook genius, but he was probably the closest I’ve seen.
The last I saw of him was when he was in seventh grade—I changed schools following that year. His personality was very similar to what can be seen in the Leno video. I didn’t know him well but if I happened upon a classroom with him in it, he wouldn’t hesitate to casually begin explaining a topic in-depth. It was as if us not knowing each other was immaterial; he was just programmed to share his vast knowledge with anyone who happened by. And it was never holier-than-thou. He always had a conversational tone that conveyed he really just had a lot going on up there.
From a quick check, it appears as though he’s now studying paleontology at a private college in-state. Good to see.
18. A for Effort (and Everything Else)
Seventh-grade life science teacher.
A girl I taught this year was basically great at every subject. I always sort of felt like the lab partner that was not prepared for the day.
She had raw talent and great genetics, but the thing that set her apart from the others was effort. She wanted to learn and spent time learning. She was quick with everything and it came naturally, but she always gave it 100%.
We had to give awards out to our students at the end of the year and I decided to not award her for her smarts since those are the awards she always receives. Instead, I gave her the award for greatest effort displayed by any student.
She also is probably going to the Olympics in a couple of years, so she’s got that going for her, which is nice.
17. Too Smart to Try
In high school, my good friend was a genius and it annoyed the crud out of the teachers. He would sit and annoy his friends or build stuff out of things he could find out of the classroom. If he was paying attention he would interject with in-depth analysis and not quite relevant questions to sidetrack the teachers or straight up correct them and end up in debates.
He also never did any homework. He calculated out the exact amount he needed to pass and found out he could pass by only doing his tests, which he always got 100% on, but had no interest in doing work. He got banned from playing pre-test studying games because he would always win and was used as the question maker for a while until he made the questions so incredibly specific and impossible to answer he got switched to the judge.
He was also an all-around really cool person, smart, cute, personable and popular, and great at sports. But he was by far the smartest person in our grade and probably the school and graduated with a 65% average because he just did. Not. Care.
16. Smart and Smug
Fifth-grade teacher here.
I had a student who was absolutely a genius. I was teaching him sixth, seventh, and eighth grade Math and Science. I found what challenges him most was my style of teaching which required a lot of collaboration and socialization. I hope I helped him grow his strengths and weaknesses that year.
15. Great at Graduating
I had a student, who was also an undergrad researcher in my lab, who was legitimately a genius. He graduated high school a year (or two?) early and got straight As while taking two to three more classes than other students were even ALLOWED to take. (So… 26ish credits.) He was taking graduate classes that I was taking (while I was his TA for some undergrad labs). He left college a year early and went to Cambridge.
It wasn’t that he knew the answer right away all the time. Sometimes he did have to think about things, but he always figured it out, and he was rarely wrong. Note, not “never.” He was wrong sometimes, and very quick to admit it. He set the curve for all of my graduate classes, despite being an undergrad at the time. Even though the tests were designed to not have everybody finish, he would always finish, and always have a 98ish% score, while the average for the test was usually ~50%. Remember, this is graduate school, we’re ALL smart. Not undergrad where the teachers have to teach to the dumbest student.
He was always working on SOMETHING. Many times, it was even over my head. He was very aloof and portrayed the perfect “mad scientist.” Very ADDish, running off mid-conversation to think about something else, very easily distract-able. He was socially awkward and by all definitions a nerd but had a good sense of humor around his friends. He was great at math, great at comp-sci, a great programmer, and he loved the combination of all of them into physical chemistry
His parents were both scientists. So, either they raised him while teaching him quantum chemistry, or his IQ was very nearly ~160ish—or both. He would often question the professors teaching the classes and was often correct with the point he was trying to make. A few times the professors came to HIM to help them solve something.
14.Once Upon a Lab
Probably genetics and hard work?
Anyway, I would introduce two loosely related topics and she would fill in the gaps of how they were connected with having a little background. She somehow just was able to pull things together and build a “story.” Not a real story, I’m talking like, an experimental procedure in chemistry. I barely had to explain and walk her through what she needs… and what needs to be considered for the experiment to work… etc.
13. He’ll Remember That
I was never a teacher, but I worked with a person that was absolutely brilliant. I have no doubt he had a seriously high IQ. He and I were software developers at the time. I’ve been in IT for over 20 years, had lots of jobs, and worked with lots of smart people. I have never met anyone even close to as smart as he was.
My theory on what made him so smart is that he had a photographic memory. He would read something once and NEVER forget it. We don’t work together anymore but are still friends and whenever we talk his memory never ceases to amaze me, not just IT stuff but everything…. world events, dates of things, people’s names, you name it.
12.Too Cute to Be So Smart
We had one at my school last year in one of our kindergarten classes. He could sound out multi-syllable phonetically irregular words. He was sent to the second-grade classes for math. They wanted to skip him two grades but were hesitant because he’s such a little pumpkin. Such a tiny sweetie. I know they were working on conveying to his parents (immigrants, the kid is also bilingual) that, no, he’s not just “kind of smart” and they need to find a program that can meet his needs.
I’ve had gifted kids in my class before, but that kid is/was a real deal genius.
11.The Art of Genius
Art is where she really stood out. As a third grader, adults wanted to keep and frame her paintings. She entered a number of competitions but got shut out until she was in junior high because the judges thought she had been coached or prepped somehow. Her work was so impressive that they wouldn’t believe someone her age could have done it. Then, as her age became more “credible” she started winning major awards.
Gifted kids are often portrayed as Rain Man types, but that turns out to be untrue. She has such incredible social and interpersonal skills.
10. What Even Is Smart?
How would we define genius here? I’m a social studies teacher so maybe I’m not the best subject to determine.
I’ve had wonderful school smart students who can do homework and tests with ease. I’ve had kids with so much potential but no drive. I’ve had kids that can’t do school to save their life but are really street smart which saves their life.
Genius is subjective for me. Yeah, I have a kid who can name all the countries in the world but realistically, is he any better than my kid who knows the ins and outs of the city he lives in?
9. I Have the Need for Speed
I used to teach “gifted” kids, that scored highly on intelligence tests. For some of them, that meant they were just very good at taking intelligence-tests, but I had a few that really stuck out and left me truly impressed.
There was this one kid (let’s call him Charlie), who was around eight years old. I gave an assignment where the kids were to build something that would allow an egg to fall down three meters without breaking. Most of them built something to soften the impact combined with some sort of parachute.
Charlie thought a little longer about it and saw one of those acorn-seed-transporters. You know the ones that can sort of propel slowly to the ground.
He decided to build that. Made it out of cardboard, nice and thick. Angled it a little, like he thought he saw it with the seeds. Added just a little bit of cushioning.
It thought it would crash for sure. The whole thing was super-heavy. But I didn’t stop him. And boy was I wrong: this “sail” actually made his craft rotate just the right way and slowed down his apparatus significantly. His egg survived the impact and Charlie was super proud. Rightfully so.
To me, that was genius: he developed something new based on a similar concept without fully understanding said concept. And he made it work. At eight years old.
8. The Sum of Everything
I’m going to drop this in on behalf of a friend of mine who’s a math teacher here in the UK, and who once—only once—has come across an actual genius. I will add here that my friend is no slouch. This kid was only there between the ages of 16 and 18, but when he arrived he already had completed every module available to make up mathematics A-levels. So, while you can technically only get *two* math A-levels, he had completed sufficient qualifications to give him three, just because.
He didn’t bother with math lessons or anything, he just hung out and talked about math. About halfway through his first year, it became clear that my friend had nothing left to teach him; he had literally surpassed the sum knowledge of the department head of one of the UK’s most prestigious schools by the age of 16.
When the time came to apply to universities, he just didn’t. They applied to him. There’s a rule of thumb in this country that you can’t apply to both Oxford *and* Cambridge because doing so will result in both of them rejecting you out of hand. In his case thought they both wrote to him to ask him to come and study there and then when he chose Cambridge, Oxford sent him a second letter saying that they understood his decision, but they hoped he would keep them in mind when the time came for his doctorate.
7. You Can’t Add Everything Up
I taught in the advanced placement program and had one student I would definitely classify as genius level.
What made him stand out amongst his—very bright—peers was his ability to make connections between things he already understood and difficult new concepts.
My students were in fourth grade I was teaching the majority of the class sixth grade math, but I was teaching him high school senior math simply because he was so quick to make connections with very little or practice needed to master a concept.
While other students were writing short stories in English this student wrote an entire novel! Not only was it full length it was well written, complex, deep and he fully illustrated it himself.
What do I think contributed to his genius? A combination of a genetic predisposition and parents who worked hard to satisfy his curiosity when it came to learning.
6. Toddlers and Tech
When I was in my last year of high school we were expected to help two times a week in a first-year class.
(For the countries, high school is about ages 12-18 In the UK).
I helped in the computing class. Most of it was login here open the Internet here’s how you open paint blah, blah.
One girl, however, wasn’t doing the stuff the others were doing. I looked over her shoulder and she was coding.
She was writing code well beyond even final year high school level and that meant she was beyond what I could even do at the time. Remember she was just 12 at the time.
I asked her about it and apparently, her dad was a programmer and he’d showed her the basics and that she thought it was really easy.
Kinda humbling when you’re 18 and a 12-year-old is better than you at something you thought you were good at.
5. Princess Proof
I once taught a girl who was a genius, she showed it in many ways, but one always stuck out.
This was an A-level physics class (UK so 17/18-year-olds) and for a piece of homework, there was one question that should take them about half a page of working to solve. It was a proof, so they knew what the answer was, but they had to figure it out themselves using the input data, selecting the right equations and then showing all the working.
She turned in her homework and said: “Sir, I’ve got the right answer but I’m not quite certain how I got there.”
What she meant was, she knew what she’d done was right, but it didn’t match the solution she was supposed to have.
I take a look, and it’s about four pages of working which ends up with the right numbers. I tell her: “<name>, I’m going to have to look into this overnight and get back to you”. So, I took it home and had a good read.
Turns out that instead of using the given equations, she’d re-figured out the same equations from first principles—i.e., she’d started with the basics fundamental principles and figured out the same equations that the original scientists did. But she did it overnight.
4. 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*
3. 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 damn successful.
2. Swipe Left On This Genius
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.
Things that may have also been related—He was into a lot of freaky sexual stuff and was 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.
1. International Smarts
This kid came to Australia at 15 from Somalia, never went to school in Somalia. Both parents dead. He walked his two younger siblings out of Somalia to Ethiopia using a map he found. Then he came to Australia and entered school. Picked up English and math so fluently he was able to graduate high school in four years.
He’s doing computer science at university now. If that kid had grown up in Australia he’d be on the news for being in university at 12.
Edit: he wasn’t literate or numerate when he arrived in Australia.