Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

They Say You’re A Know-It-All. Are You?


photo from Pixabay, CC

photo from Pixabay, CC

What did you do when you were in school and you knew all of the answers to the questions the teacher was asking?

Did you raise your hand expecting that you’d be called on? Did you raise your hand expecting the teacher to ignore you? Did you not raise your hand because the other kids would get mad at you? Did you blurt out the answer out of frustration or anger or a touch of ADHD? Did you read Hamlet for the fifth time? Did you plan the design for a nuclear fusion reactor? Did you stare out the window in despair looking to the crows for consolation?

All you wanted was to learn something new. To be free to be curious and excited. To share big ideas with your peers. You weren’t trying to make anyone else look bad. You weren’t trying to show how smart you were. You weren’t trying to irritate the teacher. All you wanted was to learn something new.

But you were ridiculed and rejected. And maybe your teachers told you, “Nobody likes a know-it-all.”

Ironic, isn’t it? When you’re often feeling like an impostor? When you know how much you don’t know? You’re the last one to think that you know it all.

Maybe you were like Taylor Wilson. Just trying to correct the outdated information his science teacher was presenting to the class. Eager to talk with someone about “the esoteric behaviors of baryons and mesons.” Exploring nuclear fusion on his own while failing science in school.

Granted, we know that, in school, it’s very hard for teachers to manage large groups of energetic kids and meet each child’s particular educational needs. We know this. We need to work to change the system. But for now, and from now on, I don’t want you to be blamed for your ravenous hunger for knowledge. I don’t want you to be mislabeled. I don’t want you to blame yourself.

You’re not a know-it-all.

You’re a want-to-know-it-all.


To my dear blogEEs: Were your experiences in school like this? Tell us about them. And if you haven’t heard of Taylor Wilson, check out the wonderful book, The Boy Who Played With Fusion, by Tom Clynes. Clynes tells an engaging, true story and is an articulate advocate for gifted kids. (Admittedly, I wish Taylor wasn’t using his extraordinary abilities to develop nukes, but that’s another conversation.)



Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in counseling gifted adults and consulting with parents of gifted children. The label "gifted" is often controversial and confusing. I use the metaphor of the rainforest to describe this population. Like the rainforest, these individuals are quite complex, highly sensitive, intense, multi-layered, and misunderstood. They're also curious, idealistic, highly intelligent, creative, perfectionistic, and they love learning. I've been an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I've written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Advanced Development Journal. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016 by GHF Press and is available on Amazon or at your independent bookstore. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019.

57 thoughts on “They Say You’re A Know-It-All. Are You?

  1. Paula, I always imagine you in the wings somewhere behind me gathering information for your future blogs. 🙂 I’m having my own kids read this one!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Being misunderstood is a lifelong affliction for intense insatiable learners, and the penalties start very early in life. . . mostly in school. You could train teachers “’til the cows come home” and you’ll still have gifted kids being punished for who they are. I’ve read your earlier article, Paula, explaining how school experiences follow gifted learners through their entire lives, and I’m sure this raw pain of being misunderstood accompanies many of those awful memories. So little can be done to erase those feelings, or to manage the next experience. There is no training for acceptance, or “benefit of the doubt,” although I counsel my son all the time to look beyond his first (instinctive) reaction to everyone. It can be an isolating and frustrating experience for the most stalwart of gifted learners, who only ** want ** to know it all, as you so wisely say, and who really don’t realize that not everyone has that same insatiable need. Some may call that a “gift,” but the blessings and burdens of even the most precious gift of curiosity can be so painfully misunderstood, and the fallout from that judgment can follow gifted souls everywhere, like a dark cloud. Thanks for nailing this one, Paula, the “such a know it all” moniker can be such a painfully stubborn cross to bear. Simply naming it may help others feel that trigger and ease up just enough to go on.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Whitechalk. So many of my clients tell me that, like you say, everyone has the same “insatiable need.” They don’t think they’re all that unique, when, in fact, they are.


  3. Wish we’d had crows.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. When I was 11 my science teacher asked the class, “Which is heavier, an ounce of gold or an ounce of feathers?” I eagerly raised my hand to explain that the ounce of gold was slightly heavier because of the discrepancies between troy and avoirdupois ounces, which I’d read about in my grandparents’ encyclopaedias. Looking back, I’m astounded by my naivety!😂 I soon learned to give the answers the teachers wanted instead of the more interesting ones in my head. I’m so glad I homeschool my kids!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. You speak to one of the darkest periods of my life. Losing a daughter was worse. Cancer and divorce weren’t nearly as bad.

    The cruelty of grade school is in the paradox (which is the polite thing to call fraud and betrayal) set before us. On the one hand, we are all placed into competition for grades, for getting the answers right, for getting called on in class, for winning races on the playground, for climbing to the top of the hill or the snowbank, for singing the best, painting the best picture, stealing a kiss from the prettiest girl. On the other hand, we discover (too late) that we have stepped into a trap, and will be punished relentlessly, culled and exiled, for having stepped out of the herd.

    Which lesson are we to take away from the school experience? That we must strive to do our best? Or that we must, at all costs, conform and not stand out?

    It’s built into the foundations of the concept of public education. On the one hand, it is supposed to be the gateway to the Ivy Leagues, to produce the “leaders of tomorrow” well-versed in all the various customs and tells of the ruling elites, to produce “productive citizens” who will cure cancer and balance the federal budget and invent ways to make our betters richer. On the other, it is supposed to produce obedient, docile, punctual factory workers. Public education in the US has never been able to make up its mind about which way it wants to drive the students — so it drives us in both directions at once. Teachers urge us to excellence, then look the other way as the students enforce the rules of conformity, often quite brutally.

    A few decades ago, education picked up a third function: a holding pen to keep workers out of a shrinking workforce.

    It now has a fourth: it is yet one more self-reinforcing money-making scam, through student debt.

    Education is wonderful. Schooling — not so much.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. In grade one, I was truly perplexed at the anger of the kids whose pronunciation I corrected. When I was in class I would only ever raise my hand when nobody else was getting the answer right.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Still called that :p

    I do like the want to know it all because thats true, I want to learn as much as I can in whatever interests me.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. One time in grad school, we were discussing the Terman study of gifted kids. I knew more about it than the professor did! That was rather awkward.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m still called a know-it-all at work, and my job is to be the resouce that people can come to for answers about anything we do. Sigh… still deaing with this one at 41.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. My teacher (only two months left till I can leave his class…!) got fed up with me “always having an answer for everything” last month, and had a lovely little speech for the rest of the class about how disrespectful/know-it-all I act, and about my bad attitude. I wasn’t there to defend myself, and since he has been telling me I’m making him look the fool, I’m thinking that fact was deliberate. We have some serious comunication issues, he’ll say I’m “attacking” him in class, when I’m just excited about the subject and likes to ask questions. How can I know when he doesn’t have the answers? Should I just assume he doesn’t know anything? For me that would be disrespectful. But the last year I’ve come to adapt like I did in elementary school: Stare out the window and wait for it to be over. I thought it would be different when he started the year by telling us (the class) that we were all equal and we should feel free to express ourselves. I was too naive (the sad thing is I’ve been working so hard about my trust-issues stemming from being lied to constantly in school, and now I’m just scrambling to not have this one person ruin all my progress).

    I wouldn’t say I like being wrong, but I don’t mind if people tell me I am. I can learn from it. With that attitude it has always baffled me when people get angry at me for pointing out their mistakes. I don’t do it all the time, but when someone is trying to learn something, and I see they’ve missed a core concept and is therefore going to make more mistakes down the line, why is it wrong to point this out in a constructive manner? And I’m not mean about it either, but because I “know so much” I’m obviously just making fun of their feeble efforts to catch up with me…

    School took away my joy of learning, and I’ve been working really hard to get it back. I’ve mostly succeeded, but the last year with the teacher I mentioned earlier is starting to remind me about all the years I sat staring out the window. I wasn’t allowed to talk much in class (I couldn’t even raise my hand, because that would make the other children feel bad to see how fast I knew the answer), so I was doing anything I could except paying attention in class (when the teacher is yelling at you in front of the class for finishing your mathbook too early, or takes away your book when you’re getting “too far ahead of the class” etc, until you’re left staring out the window/at the wall, what’s the point?). I don’t want to go back to that place mentally; to even get to school I would have to fight the urge to throw my self in front of the school bus. It really does something with your head when you’re forced to go somewhere you loathe. It breaks your spirit, especially because you feel like every day you’re going to your own funeral, you know it’s going to hurt, but you still have to do it. For years and years you have to inflict this pain upon yourself. You know that one day it’s going to end, but it hurts so bad, and there’s nothing you can do in the meantime. You’ve tried. You learn that everything you do is wrong, and everything is your fault. Eventually I learned to be invisible, but that’s not a solution and it has taken me a LOT of hard work to get out of that mindset. Why must the school system inflict such pain on individuals who should be thriving in a learning environment?

    I’m glad I have friends who don’t mind my want-to-know-it-all-ness (I’m stealing that phrase!). One of them told me I could be an irritating know-it-all, but since she know I’m not trying to make her look dumb, and that I’m “almost always right, annoyingly”, it’s ok. The best friends are those that don’t mind my enthusiasm about subjects I love. Yes I can be intense in my search for knowledge, but I don’t really expect others to be like me (once, I did…), but sometimes I wish this wouldn’t be punished in school. “Stick to the curriculum.” I understand the point of this, but I feel it also kills creativity and enthusiasm about a subject to be given such strict guidelines for what you *need* to know. If it won’t give you points on a test, forget about it! That does not inspire people to learn.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know your pain, from myself a little, but more recently from my son, who’s now grown and out of school, but BOY did we have trouble with school…. it was horrible, I saw that it was doing him more harm than good and I took him out to homeschool him, or rather, “unschool” him – look up that term and you will find MANY kindred spirits whom school has broken. I’m not saying you should drop out or unschool, but millions of people know the school system is simply not set up to deal with gifted (or otherwise very intelligent) students. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. You are an exceptional human being in a merely average environment right now, and it’s likely you may not be able to do much about it until you graduate. That teacher you speak of has very low self-esteem and is in fear of you, though unnecessarily. His ego sees you as a threat to his professionalism (him losing face for not being the one who knows everything, as he thinks he should) and he doesn’t know what to do with you. He has to deal with many other students and therefore doesn’t have time to give you much REAL thought so he just puts you down, and away, until the next class. It’s too bad, but that’s how it is with most teachers. The school system, in many cases, is a factory. Yes, there are some wonderful teachers, but even they have to teach to the tests and are often at odds with themselves; with how they WANT to teach vs how they have to teach. I wish I had magical advice for you. I do feel for you. Read about giftedness (regardless of your IQ, if you even know it, it doesn’t matter; you are experiencing what gifted students experience) and maybe you can find ways to deal with others (inc teachers & parents) and ways to handle the rest of your life. Don’t give up on yourself, you can get through it. Start planning and looking ahead to your life after you graduate so you have something to look forward to. 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so sorry that this has been your experience, Aslaug. I wish that what I’d written in this blog weren’t really true. But, sadly, like you describe here, this happens to so many rainforest minds. I hope that my posts are soothing and help you see that you’re not alone. Perhaps, together, we can make a tiny impact on the system. The book I mention by Tom Clynes suggests some ways to change schooling and his website also provides other resources. Thank you so much for being here and for telling us about your experience. It makes the blog that much richer.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Definitely yes to the part about not raising my hand, for fear of the other kids thinking I’m making them look bad. And yes to staring out the window. And a big THANK YOU to the teacher in 4th grade who sat me near a bookshelf and ignored me when I slithered over to grab a book and ‘secretly’ read when I finished my work early. I read The Pearl little by little, thanks to her.
    On another note, I once had an ex, years later, say to me, “One thing I couldn’t stand is that you always had to be right!” … “huh? me? I’m not like that, am I?” … “No, I don’t mean you argued about proving yourself right, I mean you were actually always right. Even when you were quiet and barely said anything, it was always right!” ugh. LOL.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, there are the teachers out there who truly make a difference in our lives. I think this is a systemic problem where we need to rethink how we run schools and how we train teachers. I so wish we could prioritize education of our children. And it sounds like this isn’t just a problem in N. America but in other countries as well. Thank you for commenting.


  12. I still get this. In a recent position, my coworker didn’t know an answer to a client question and the boss didn’t know the answer to a client question, so reluctantly I chimed in because I wanted to help the client. (And all the while thinking, “Why can’t you just Google it instead of throwing up your hands and shrugging?!” The Truth is Out There, why don’t they care?) The response from the coworker? “That’s why we keep you around!” Ha ha, workplace banter, I get it, and I did not take offense, exactly, but the eyerolling part of me recalled being in school, where “all I’m good for” is having the right answer. Nevermind all my other fine qualities, yeesh! I still hate being called out as the resident egghead. Since I’m underemployed, I often keep silent in order to not be the office Hermione Granger and make myself stick out or make others feel bad (hmm, I should be in therapy), but sometimes I can’t help myself, especially when wrong information is being disseminated!

    Liked by 5 people

  13. I’m in tears right now. I have suffered so so much throughout my lifetime over this and you just completely hit the nail on the head. The most tragic thing was growing up to realize I could never, ever know it all… about anything. Realizing the limits of a lifetime. And then… deciding to give it my best anyways. I mean… I’m in a better place now but… I don’t think I’ve ever really recognized my past with this problem in the way you worded it. I’ve even had relationships where my partner got jealous of my intelligence and knowledge and… it did not lead to good things for me in the relationship. Thank you, Paula, for this post. But I must admit this was a huge trigger for me that almost led to a panic attack so please… post a warning somewhere on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. what a great topic. The one thing I find is that I seem to have so much information in my mind and I know the details are right, but I have learned to shut up. Many a time little pieces of interesting information can be brought out in other conversations to add to it. Now I write all my thoughts and observations in a notebook. Thank you once again for the great topic.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. When I was at school in the 1950’s and 1960’s I was soaking up every bit of information I could get my hands on. I just took it in, because the only times I spoke up because I didn’t understand I was hit on the head and hands and scolded so much I very rarely spoke up again. Therefore for I became an observer and stored all the information. I learned very early – so my method was to observe and put the idea into practice, an example ballroom dancing – I would wait until I had seen a couple of sets of whatever dance in was and then when asked another time for a dance I would accept the invitation. It has worked for me.

    Now at the age of 73 I have sufficient confidence to stand up in front of an audience and speak. I have a lot of knowledge I can put together when needed and deliver.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like you figured out how to adapt because of some painful experiences. Sounds like you’re saying it gets better over time. Yes? Thank you for commenting, marie405.


  16. yes if you want it to. Marie.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you for this article, and for your whole wonderful blog! School — yecchh. I was a socially isolated “brain”, desperate to start college when I was still in elementary school. One day my sixth grade teacher said something about the larynx, and he pronounced it “lar – nix”. I immediately told him what the right pronunciation was, because I assumed he’d be interested, and I was all excited about speech, phonetics, and linguistics. For the rest of that school year, my teacher would look at me every now and then in the middle of a lesson and say mockingly, “Did I pronounce that word right, Freya?”

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Even from my kids: Geez, Mom, do you have to analyze EVERYTHING???

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Thank you, Paula, for what you do to connect people with others who share their experience. As many have said here, this hostility is a massively common (almost universal) experience for unusually bright kids (and often for adults as well). It’s important to acknowledge and grieve our sorrows and pain, but it’s important eventually to develop strategies that help us move away from negativity and help us to begin to tell a different story. At some point it becomes important to remind ourselves of those aspects of unusual minds that are positive. In this way we can lift our spirits and recharge our batteries to put our gifts to use. A powerful mind can intimidate others, but is also something to be grateful for. Our passions truly enrich our lives and may help us enrich the lives of others. No small thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely, Stef. I agree. I hope that my blog provides readers with that opportunity to “recharge” and to find their particular beautiful rainforest-y voices! Thanks for writing. I’ve been following your work for years!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. So true. I started really sticking out when I had read all the ‘programmed readers’ by the middle of second grade. They were supposed to last through fifth grade. But I had already made lots of friends, so there was no significant social penalty…but then I moved across town to a different elementary school. What were they supposed to do with a kid who had already finished all the reading and math by second grade? My fifth grade teacher was completely clueless and responded to my being teased by sending me to the library and upbraiding the other kids for being mean to me once I’d left the room. Not helpful, although her heart was in the right place, but she never did give me anything to do. My memories of those years are filled with crushing boredom.

    After fifth grade, I moved again. By now I had a whole new strategy. I found the smartest girl in the grade, and pretty much niced her to death until she caved. I sat with her at lunch, and as I moved in, her current best friend got territorial and did some really awful things. (Like, sending love notes to a kid I didn’t even know. I went along with it just because I couldn’t face crushing him. But the big joke was that he was in ‘Low.’ Yes, our class groupings were called High, Middle, and Low, lest there be any confusion about where we fell as learners. Gotta love the 70’s.) The end of that story was that the girl and I recognized each other as kindred spirits in a school that was nowhere near where we needed it to be, and ten years later she was in my wedding. We’re still close friends decades later.

    But it follows you into adulthood…there is a woman I know well from church. She is clearly very intelligent and has impressive gifts both cognitively and creatively. One day my husband and I were at a party with a lot of people who work with her, and somehow her name came up. They started just cranking on how annoying she is to work with, because she’s ‘always right!’ It was revealing to hear her intelligence be baldly ridiculed. No one said she was a condescending ‘know-it-all,’ just that she was so annoying because she is just Always Right. Every meeting, “Jane” always has all the answers! It’s Maddening! I can’t stand the ‘itch! And they seemed to take such joy in making fun of her behind her back. It was mean, not just exasperated. I’m good friends with these people, and of course they had no reason to know that I knew her until I said that she had always seemed nice to me and kind of brought them up short, (not popular! better watch that!) but the conversation sent me home realizing that I really Do conceal my ferocious curiosity when I’m with this group of friends to avoid that exact reaction….even at 50 years old.

    I’d been ‘identified’ in second grade, but without any programming, who cared? But I finally got old enough to attend two weeks at Gifted and Talented camp at the end of 6th grade. It blew my mind – it was the first time in my life that I knew that there were people smarter than I was out there. Now, of course, I meet people who are smarter than I am all the time, but as a rural kid bumping around small towns, that didn’t happen. The knowledge that there were other people like me who loved to learn changed everything for me. I’m glad you do what you do. I’m sure it’s much easier on kids and their parents now with blogs like yours out there to normalize high intelligence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sharri, for describing your experiences. I’m so glad you mentioned the camp you attended after 6th grade. I do think those programs are part of the solution. I know so many kids who benefitted from programs like that. And, yes, there are many blogs now about parenting gifted kids, thankfully. The internet makes it easier for parents to find each other and learn from each other.


  21. Sigh, it was my parents who ridiculed me. And told me I shouldn’t be a know it all in front of other people, because they might not “understand.” I get where they were coming from, on the one hand, they just wanted me to be more successful socially. This was really important to my mom, a social butterfly. On the other hand, my sister was and is an intensely competitive and jealous person (of everyone, not just of me) and they wanted peace in the family.

    But was the best solution really to criticize me for who I am? To this day, my sister mocks me every time we’re together. I don’t remember being mocked too much in school, but by junior high I was already trying to hide, so there must have been something there.

    In social groups, I’m not sure. I’m involved in several groups and have a handful of true friends, but I’ve never been the most popular and I’ve always suspected this is why. Then again, it could be massive insecurities stemming from my parents’ parenting style.

    I’m going into education now, as a second career now that my kids are older. I’m currently in the first class, Curriculum Design, and I find myself fuming at the assigned reading more often than not. They are actually actively training teachers not to worry about the kids who get it right away, to focus on the struggling kids and how not to damage their self esteem. I’m all for educating everyone, and I’m not suggesting that educators should take an elitist view, but seriously….could we address what to do with the “smart kids”? Maybe that would help the next generation of kids feel less like aliens. Also, in order to get a GT certification in my state you have to have taught for 4 years. So….you teach for 4 years without understanding this population before you get a chance to learn about them? Yep. And a GT certification is optional. Just letting off a little steam here, where I know it will be understood.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. School was always a struggle socially but my mother (every time we moved) loved the library and made sure I went at least weekly. So that was how I survived. Kept my mouth closed because I regularly got called smarty pants or the other thing, too sensitive. I know better how to use my superpowers now and find I do a lot of good in my work and home life. My hypersensitivity still gets me in trouble but I married another very gifted person and we are busy helping our amazing kids navigate the world. It’s tough but we always have lots of games and things to do at home. It’s an ongoing issue when your kindergartener already hates school. Homeschool may be on the horizon for that one. Their desire to be at school seems very much dependent on which teacher they have. I also completely sympathize with the teachers because I tried to be a high school English teacher for a couple years. Most of my students loved me but many didn’t because I constantly challenged them. It was hard for me to see people really not care about learning but there were so many that did, gifted and otherwise. I let my students have as much leeway with assignments as I could. However, the drain on my energy (making assignments differentiated for all learning types and so forth is time consuming and sometimes shhh boring!) and mental state led to a career change and I am much happier now, though I do miss many of the students.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Interesting to see both sides, Gabi. An individual teacher can make such a difference and it’s very hard work to do it well. I wish that educating all of our children would become a priority. Pay teachers what we pay celebrities or athletes! I’d be curious to hear from any readers who know of great models of schooling anywhere in the world. We need to spread the word about schooling designs that are working! Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. I got what you mean , thankyou for posting .Woh I am happy to find this website through google. “I would rather be a coward than brave because people hurt you when you are brave.” by E. M. Forster.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Pingback: For Gifted Kids And Their Teachers — Strategies For Success | Your Rainforest Mind

  25. In the checkout line, I watched a late teen (tall) male pass my items through the barcode reader, after a few items I said to him (in a Paula Prober kind’a way…) “you are college bound and will become some sort of Doctor…” The young man stopped for only a moment, prepared his reply, and said, “Yes, I am in college now. I am studying to be a Psyciatrist… How did you know?” As he continued checking my items out without missing a beat of the RYTHUM and SPEED he was maintaining… I told him, I come here to buy cat food, I place the 7 varieties of canned food in groups of four… Then when I checkout, everyone (except you) take them 1 by 1 and pass them through the reader INSTEAD OF passing 1 from the group and then entering the quantity… (I had to speak faster because the normal lengthy checkout was already complete…) So, when I saw you doing this I knew you were destined for a high calling (and I was prepared to encourage him if his professed calling was not so high…) so, he smiled and agreed with me that “this way is faster as long as all the items are the same, I noticed you put them in groups.” I got the young man’s name and wished him well.

    For me, coming across this young man was rewarding… I have never been able to fathom why a professional teacher would not be encouraged by “gifted finds” within their classroom… instead of shutting them down as problematic.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Pingback: Don’t Show How Smart You Are. Other Kids Will Feel Bad. | Your Rainforest Mind

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