One does not have to be smart in order to be lovable. In fact, I think, based on my years as a teacher and reputed smart person, being smart is actually a handicap to being loved by others. Some of the sweetest, most lovable students I ever met were the the special-education students who were mentally handicapped. I worked with them at times as a substitute teacher in 2006 and 2007. I also encountered them routinely doing hallway duty at Naaman Forest High School. They always said hello. They always smiled. Though they rarely knew my name. Some of them went out of their way to shake hands with me and ask me how my day was. I discovered along the way that teachers who worked with them on a daily basis tended to be nicer, more welcoming and friendly than other teachers. That simple enthusiasm and likability is obviously contagious.
I promise, doing the things that happy but somewhat stupid people do works when you have to deal with others on a daily basis. I know because I tried it. It took me several years to work past the foolish teacher-notion that you have be the boss and you have to be mean to get students to learn. You start trying to iron out bad behaviors by calling them out and shouting them down, which only leads to threats that have to be carried out, students sitting in misery in the principal’s office, parents calling with concerns or trying to boss and bully you, and more trips to the store for antacids and headache pills.
What actually works better is meeting the students at the door with a stupid grin on my face before class ever starts. “Good morning,” I say. “You are looking smarter than usual today. You must be ready to learn the most important lessons anyone ever learned.”
“Are we doing something in class today?” they always say.
“Of course we are,” I answer with my stupid grin, “wonderful things!”
When the lessons start and the class clown puts wasted sticky-notes on his eyelids and ears and tongue, I don’t get mad and tell him to straighten up or else. I tell him, “Something is different about the way you look today. Did you try a new hair gel or something?” When the others break up in giggles, I tell him, “Whatever it is, it makes you look good. You should wear it that way for every lesson you do.”
Sometimes you have to stop a serious consideration of themes in the Kurt Vonnegut short story from the Literature Book to take a serious wiggle-break. Students need to stand up and shake apart whatever stiff dead-parts they may have grown from sitting too long in one spot. Most of them shake their behinds. You know, the part they use for thinking most of the time.
You do these stupid things, and the students begin to love your class. They begin to love what they are reading. It is a simple, stupid thing… but so very necessary.
Of course you can’t cure all the dead-brains, jerks, and snarks this way. Some will never buy in. But it works with most. Kids will behave well for you if you love the stupid parts they all have in them. They will love you because you let them be stupid without serious consequences.
Now, I know there are many… some of them principals and teacher-evaluators who will be offended by me talking about kids being stupid. Some will mistakenly think I am insulting them. But I am not. I often need to make a distinction between the kind of stupid I am talking about here and the angry, hurtful kind that I prefer to call ignorance. That kind of stupid is the kind that makes Donald Trump, a person who actually knows better, call Mexican immigrants rapists. It is a different thing to do something stupid because you are unintentionally wrong about something, or impaired somehow (like me when my blood sugar is low), or valuing silly over accurate. Stupidity often can’t be helped. but when you demonize Muslims because you want to make political points with people who are angry and fearful and honestly don’t know anything about Muslims they haven’t heard from ignorant people, then ignorance means ignoring what you probably know is true anyway to do something that intentionally chooses not to make use of whatever useful intelligence you have.
So forgive me for writing a stupid essay about stupid being lovable. I can’t help it. I am just stupid sometimes.