It sure is hard to know, but I think that Richard Feynman is the most brilliant U.S. born scientist of all times. As far as I know Feynman (Nobel Prize in Physics 1965) is not the one with the most honors, or prizes but I have the feeling that he is the one with the most interesting life. For one, he's the one with a great sense of humor that can be sampled reading his book: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman". This autobiography written only a few years before his death in 1988 is an invaluable - priceless account of what an "extraordinary and ordinary" his life was. Paradoxical as it sounds his life is a reminder that all our lives are extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. Ordinary and common as we all do the same things and extraordinary and particular as we all do our own things.
So, teaching (in particular teaching sciences) is an art where the teacher has to find the balance between the ordinary and extraordinary in each student. The extraordinary and the ordinary in each element of knowledge being transmitted and developed in the classroom. The extraordinary and ordinary of each moment in time spent with the students, both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.
I know that in most cases we act intuitively and don't pay much attention to these apparent contradictions between the ordinary and the extraordinary but it looks like to me that we have to be more intentional looking for this paradox. It seems to me that one way to be intentional about this is to have the students be aware of what you are looking for and to make them take ownership of this process; or at least partners. Richard Feynman was an genius that knew that he was just like anybody else, that may be the source of his genius and, important for me, the source of his good humor and great personality.
Now I have to find a way to learn about the extraordinary and ordinary of each of my students! Do you have an idea how to do that?