Nerds don’t make good teachers, eh?

“Nerds don’t make good teachers, Catholic schools warn” screamed a bucket load of headlines yesterday, in response to the Government’s proposal to increase the minimum ATAR for teaching to 70.

Now, I have some reservations about this proposal. I would rather see conditions improved – especially workload – than impose a mandatory minimum score. This feels to me like a cheap and easy approach with quite uncertain outcomes, rather than a genuine attempt to improve our education system.

But it’s the comment from the Executive Director of Catholic Education Melbourne that gets so far up my nose I’m going to need surgery to extract it. To be fair, the headlines were cheap clickbait, and the actual quote is “Nerds don’t necessarily make good teachers.” Which is hard to argue with. I mean, take any group of people, even teachers, and they don’t necessarily make good teachers. There is no completely homogeneous group of people on earth. You can’t point to a race, a personality type, a socio economic group, of any kind and say “they will all make fabulous teachers”. Or train drivers. Or Executive Directors of the Catholic Education System.

Now, I will be the first to admit – no, to exclaim with pride! – that I am a nerd. So perhaps I am a little biased on this topic. But I am so very, very sick of the lazy, tired stereotype that nerds are pasty people with no social skills who never go out in the sunlight.

I work with nerds. I teach nerds. I have taught some of the smartest people I’ve ever met over the last 6 years, and there are some extraordinary teachers, communicators, and empaths among them. Sure, they’re not all like that. It’s true that smart people aren’t all the best communicators. But there is no group of people that you can say are all the best communicators.

Some of my nerds are amazing at sport. Some of them are extraordinary debaters. Some of them are the most talented musicians I have ever met. Some of them are incredible empaths. They are a rich and diverse group of people, with no two ever totally alike, but here’s what they have in common:

Nerds are intelligent and focused, especially when something engages their passion.

Nerds are passionate and often want to change the world.

Nerds are talented, often in many different areas at once.

Nerds think outside the box, and ask “why?” about problems the rest of the world takes for granted.

Nerds are creative.

Nerds are problem solvers.

Nerds made the iphone and write all the apps. They designed your tablet computer and create new drugs to treat disease. They invented wifi, the microwave, and the Airbus A380. They gave you google maps and email, hybrid cars and solar power. They can give you life saving surgery and remote controlled lights.

Just like the ASAP Science boys sing:

See I heard (oh) 
That you been out and about making fun of nerds 
Making fun of nerds 
See that's simply a mistake, know why? 
Soon they'll innovate and change our lives 
And be remembered for all of time

Most of the teachers at my school would happily, and accurately, wear the nerd label, and they are some of the most dedicated, talented, and amazing teachers I have ever known. They are brilliant communicators, passionate about their work, and would do just about anything for the students they teach. A startling number of them have PhDs – they are pretty much the definition of uber nerds – and they are fabulous.

So next time you are tempted to run with that tired old nerd stereotype, ask yourself what you’re really trying to say. And whether it’s true.



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