I was a consistent honor student from grade school all the way through high school, and even graduated salutatorian both times. When I was in high school, I took a standardized assessment test and scored 99+. During senior year in high school, I applied for a spot in a highly elite program (quota course) in UP Manila and got in. Freshman and sophomore year in university was a breeze. There were some hiccups along the way, but those couple of years flew by uneventfully. A number of years later, I took the Berlitz CEFR and got a C2 and a band level of 9 for IELTS. Frankly, no one in my circle made a big fuss over it. It didn’t mean anything to me and my friends. (I went to a science high school and was expected to perform well. Anything less than the best was simply unacceptable.) When we were in school, my cousin regularly sought my help for homework and school projects/papers. You could say that I’ve been registering scores like that all my life, so I developed the complacency that I’m highly intelligent.
My junior year in university was a different story though. For the first time in my life, my grades were plummeting. I was struggling with my major subjects, not some of them but all of them. Anatomy and Kinesiology were my biggest hurdles. My study habits had not changed; in fact, I was burning the midnight oil more than ever. I was not any less focused than before. I watched myself as I went for a nosedive from being a teacher’s pet to a complete pariah in class. (Our professors were tough on us, but they were even more so on students with lackluster performance.) I took Anatomy and Kinesiology twice and failed both times. I felt like the wind was taken away from my sails. I transferred to UP Diliman soon after and got in the Creative Writing program. Acceptance was a hard thing to muster. It was a fall from grace. I had so wanted to be a doctor but I just couldn’t hack it. With my grades quickly jumping back to its pre-junior year state, it wasn’t long before I re-discovered my confidence and found my footing.
If I were so intelligent, how can I have been so reduced to being a blundering, stammering, constipated idiot in my junior year? Such thoughts were running through my mind as I coasted through one semester after another. Everything about my journey to the Creative Writing program was a sign that life as I knew it and my identity was one world, one galaxy almost, and now another. I realized that my aptitude is not in the Sciences. Looking back, I only managed to endure Biology, Chemistry and Physics in high school. I was intelligent, or I am intelligent, but my scores in Anatomy and Kinesiology were an indication that my inclination lies somewhere else. I’m not very good at answering test questions designed to measure a skill that is worlds away from my inclination, and that’s ok.
When we say that a person is intelligent and try to measure their “intelligence”, aren’t we limiting that person and our understanding of “intelligence”? One person may seem “unintelligent” in a test, while he could very well be highly skilled in different areas that are different from what society has conventionally deemed so.
Nowadays, I no longer wear my intelligence like a brooch. I’ve come to accept my limitations, but I know that doesn’t make me any less smart than the person I ask for help. In my field, I train a lot of IT professionals on English Proficiency. Most days I could only hope for them to get a B2 level in the CEFR. Yet I know that if they were to design a test, I would fail miserably. Somehow I know that doesn’t make any one of us any less intelligent.
As a trainer dealing with adult learners, I try to regard my students with as much respect as they should be accorded not just as learners but as professionals. Sometimes I forget when the demands for hit rate and pass rate are looming and their grammar is still horrendous and their sentence structure just as atrocious. But I try to remember how it was to not perform as well as you’d expected. I’m not dealing with a dunce, and their poor communication skills does not make them one.
When my PC, laptop or tablet decides to have a mind of its own or some other thing decides to conk out on me, I call on that same cousin who used to hasten to me when he had concerns in school. I would watch him anxiously as he tinkers, reconfigures and revives my ailing technological devices and listen to his explanations, pronouncements and diagnosis much like I would my doctor or a divine oracle. Much of what he says would go above my head, yet I’d always nod meekly. The teacher has now become the student.