To the know-it-alls


Slouching with drooping eyelids, I listened to the man at the podium. It looked like he was speaking. It really did. He was moving his mouth and his arms and his hands and the microphone was definitely on. But all I heard was, ” yada yada yada.”

He was going on and on about his 36 years of teaching and five published books and all the things he had discovered, all the wisdom he had to impart to new teachers, all the answers. He really had it all—or so he said. I sat there not caring what he had to say.

As part of a group from Central, I missed three days of school to go to the College of the Ozarks, participating in a conference designed for teachers. My group was only at this conference to present as students—to help teachers understand what a positive classroom environment looks like through the eyes of a student. Why should I care about the keynote speaker? I wasn’t there to learn about teaching.

Instead, I decided to watch the clock tick. Ten more minutes passed.

After the speaker finished, he handed my group autographed copies of one of his books, “The 20 Gifts of Life.” I stared at the title of the book. It was so sure of itself. These are the 20 gifts of life. No more. No less.  And if it’s written, then it must be true, right?

I started to think about all the people who were there to learn about teaching. I wasn’t his target audience; I was a teenager thinking about a nap. However, in the audience there were attentive listeners–prospective teachers, current teachers, retired teachers–who sat with wide eyes and perfect posture. They were hanging onto his every word as if it were handed down from on high, reassessing their own philosophies as they listened.

And then, I started to get mad. “Who does this guy think he is?” I thought. His years in teaching make up a career, and, sure that’s a long time. And five books? Sure,  that’s a lot. But just because you lived one way or you thought something or worked 30-some years in a profession, who in the world says your way is the right one? Who in the world would agree that the 20 gifts of life you found are the same as the 20 gifts of life I will unwrap?

And then, I started to think about the group I was there representing. Advising others to be open, to communicate freely, to be brave. And then within our own school community, my club isn’t alsways listened to, isn’t perfect. Who were we to speak to others from high above on our pedestal? We are all just high schoolers, teachers, people. And we are all making this life thing up as we go along.

Yet, when people ask us what we think, what they should do, what is black, what is white, we reply with such conviction—as if we, people who can only experience a fraction of what life has to offer, are a credible source of knowledge. Who do we think we are, telling others their relationship is unhealthy or their opinion is wrong or their God isn’t the right one? The answers to these questions elude us, and yet, we go around pretending as if we have all the right ones.

I have decided there is only one thing to do. Whatever it is that feels right for you. In the end, we can only speak from our own exeriences and the convictions we create from them. No two people will ever experience the same life. Each path is unique, winding and straight, uphill and downhill, with all these so-called 20 gifts maybe hidden along the way. There is never a map. There is never a way to know it all– even if you write a book about it.