Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grade Teacher?

Are You Smarter

“Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” was a quiz show that ran on Fox for several seasons. Each episode featured contestants trying to answer ten questions, taken from elementary school textbooks, with a prize of $1 million for anyone who answered all ten correctly.

Over the course of 86 episodes, only two contestants – one, the superintendent of education in Georgia, and the other, a recipient of a Nobel Prize in Physics – claimed the top prize and avoided the ignominy of having to admit, “I’m not smarter than a fifth grader.”

Today we ask you to think carefully about how you relate to anyone you hope to inspire to do great things – whether employees, colleagues, students, or your own children. Do you challenge them? Do you invite them, and indeed expect them, to contribute their genius? Do you let them know they matter? Do you challenge them to let others know they matter?

Asked another way: “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grade Teacher?”

This week I published on my personal blog, a post that it appears will become the most read piece I’ve published in five years of blogging. What could I have written that attracted so much immediate attention?

A groundbreaking research on a new teaching method?

Did I share unassailable advice on how to guide students to higher performance on assessment tests – the holy grail of our Orwellian education system?

No, and no.

I republished two “Dear Student” letters that had been shared with me by a fifth grade teacher. Arin Kress, a self-described “5th grade teacher in Ohio who is constantly learning,” had published these letters on her blog, Hate Chalk, and sent them home to her new students over the summer.

Because they were based on the work we’ve been doing with Choose2Matter, she knew I would appreciate reading them. She didn’t expect that I would end up sharing them with tens of thousands of other educators and business leaders.

She didn’t expect that I would challenge tens of thousands of educators and business leaders to consider, when it comes to spurring the people in your life to do their best, whether you are smarter than a fifth grade teacher.

I suspect that if we filmed an 86-episode reality TV show exploring this question, a good majority of you would conclude by admitting that you’re not.

How do you orient your new employees? With an employee handbook and sea of compliance forms? Is this because what you seek from your employees, above all else, is compliance?

If you supervise colleagues, how do you welcome them back to work on a Monday morning?

How do you speak to your child the night before the start of a new school year?

How do you welcome students who are entering your class for the first time?

In each case, do you challenge them? Do you invite them, and indeed expect them, to contribute their genius? Do you let them know they matter to you?

Arin Kress does all of this, in a succinct, unremarkable way.

In two short, simple letters, she conveys the following thoughts, among others:

“Everyday this summer I’ve thought about the amazing group of 5th graders that will cross the threshold of my classroom in just a few weeks.”

“Your inner genius is ready to come out!”

“How are YOU going to change the world?”

“YOU are why I became a teacher.”

“YOU will make a difference in my life.”

“I hope to learn as much from YOU as you do from ME!”

“So here’s your first assignment. Tell as many people in your life that THEY matter to YOU.”

“I can’t wait for the ride to begin that we will experience together!”

How do you think the students fortunate enough to be in Arin Kress’ classes will approach this school year? Would you, like me, give anything to be part of the excitement of the first day, the first week, and likely the entire school year?

How do you think the people fortunate enough in your life will approach their time with you this year?

Are you smarter than a fifth grade teacher?

My life path has always been about teaching and communication. My twenty years as an educator and my passionate pursuit of literacy and learning, gave me the healthy dose of courage and skills that have led me through a wonderful variety of experiences, including classroom and University teaching, instructional coaching, research, writing, publishing, corporate training, and starting my own business.

  • http://www.thecaremovement.com Al Smith

    Wow. Incredible piece Angela. Every time I read your posts it makes me think and creates emotions. Thinking of my 18 year old step daughter, as she goes off to college this week. I have tried to encourage and inspire her along the way and let her know that “she matters”
    The following should be all the worlds “First Assignment”

    “Tell as many people in your life that THEY matter to YOU.”
    Thanks again for all you do. You are a gift to this world.
    Al

  • Margy

    I love this assignment from the teacher, “So here’s your first assignment. Tell
    as many people in your life that THEY matter to YOU.” How empowering that is for both the student and the person they share their message with! The world would be a better place if we all shared those thoughts more often. Thanks for sharing this message, Angela.

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