I have found, throughout the course of my teaching experience, that my greatest assets as an educator are not always those I was told would be assets. I was told that flexibility would be huge, and patience vital, and organization helpful. I was told to listen more than talk (something I struggle with). But I was never once told that one’s greatest strength as a teacher could be this:
Allow me an explanation. Geek is not an insult; the definition is in flux. Geeks are simply people who are passionate about any of a number of things, from video games to tabletop gaming, from science fiction to fantasy, from comics to manga, from anime to movies. In San Diego, geeks reign supreme: this is the home of Comic-Con International, and like the rest of the SoCal region, many things once considered strange or uncool are the opposite here. Subcultures dominate California now, and as a result, subcultures dominate popular culture.
It’s a huge shift in what it means to be a young person in the modern world. When I was a kid, you watched anime in secret. Now my students wear Fairy Tail t-shirts and carry Avengers backpacks. They eat lunches pulled from Minecraft lunchboxes. And, whether we like it or not, they do go home as elementary schoolers and watch The Walking Dead with their siblings and play Call of Duty for hours on end.
And while the instinct may be to reject these things or condemn them as inappropriate (some are) or frivolous (everything is, and that’s okay), I choose not to. I remember those things I was obsessed with growing up, and the things I’m still obsessed with, and I choose to embrace the interests of students. It doesn’t have to be huge. It simply has to be an acknowledgement, or an awareness, of what they love.
When my students start rambling about DragonBall Z when they should be working on a project, I express an interest in their conversation before redirecting their energy: “Oh, man, I’d love to go super-saiyan, too, and I’d love to talk about this more! But first we have to get this done.”
This is not the same as trying to be cool. Kids can sense the false desperation of those attempts immediately. But a basic acknowledgement that you value their interests – that what they love has value simply because they love it? That can make a world of difference to some students.
I can remember specifically the teachers who told me to watch Pan’s Labyrinth or asked to look at my Pokémon cards before making me put them away. These small gestures provide a validation that many students at home do not receive. Even if you are not a geek yourself, the validation is easy. Being interested is easy. When my students ask me to watch a vlog, I try to do so. When they draw animated characters in their margins, I ask who they are.
The world grows geekier by the day. What a joy to revel in that. What a privilege to share it with students.