What aspects do I like about teaching gifted learners?

Take a right at the second door and enter my gifted classroom ~photo by Angie French
Take a right at the second door and enter my gifted classroom ~ photo by Angie French
It’s been awhile since I have published an entry here. During that time, I have not ignored the issues surrounding the education of our gifted learners; just taken a short break from publishing on my site. There has been some exciting things happen over the past few months. I completed the end of the school year at one campus and moved to a new campus following the principal that hired me when I first started in this district.

This is my tenth year teaching with nine of those years working with the gifted learner. My Twitter handle @teachagiftedkid does not quite capture what I do in my classroom but it was the handle I came up with when I was completing my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction in 2002. My job is actually more like coaching the gifted kid and my classroom atmosphere is more of a collaborative, invigorating, noisy place when the kids are engaged in their learning.

So, what aspects do I like about ‘teaching’ gifted kids? My list is going to be short and sweet and here goes:

I love the connections they make with the information or learning experiences they are participating in! Never, ever assume you know everything just because you are the teacher! The question that I use when a student says something that I don’t directly see the connection to what we are doing is, “What makes you say that?” Listen, listen carefully because you might learn something insightful or see things from a new and different perspective!

I want to preface this aspect of working with the gifted learner with a sorry. I apologize to all the state education agencies and the test making companies because of this next aspect that I love about teaching gifted children. Although, I do believe that testing is extremely helpful to educators and state lawmakers it just doesn’t make sense to dwell on it with my gifted learners. I know what they are capable of and I stress the need to show that in all the work they do, including standardized tests. I teach my students with an eye towards their future. A test will not guarantee their success in the job market years from today but it may play a role on their way to their future. I also address topics such as how to be successful in college, how to handle a bully who is teasing them about their differences, discussing their career aspirations and being true to who they are.

Some of these children are already owners of their learning so my job is to help them with direction, resources and communication. Yes, there are some gifted learners that need me every step of the way. In these cases, my job is to build their self-confidence in their abilities and perspective. When do I know I am successful with these students? Most of the time, it is years later when they send me a high school graduation announcement or their parent sees me in the grocery store and they tell me of their child’s successes!

Having raised two gifted learners into adulthood and watched them playing with their gifted friends has helped me to understand and relate to their social-emotional development. I’m also married to a creatively gifted man that when through his educational career without any specialized services. His insight has been invaluable for me. Much more valuable than all the professional development that I’ve attended. My current students look at me sometimes with the look that says, “How did you know I was thinking that?”

I love the challenge of educating the other adults who work with these children outside of my classroom. My charge is to build understanding and empathy for the issues that the gifted learner deals with. I feel it is important to advocate for services they need. I enjoy working with adults to help them understand the needs, intensities and joys of working with the gifted learner.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working with the gifted learner is when the parent of a gifted learner breathes a big sigh of relief when they realize that intensities they are dealing with at home aren’t a sign of psychological issues but rather are an manifestation of the child’s giftedness. I host a monthly gifted parent book club on Friday afternoons at my school for just this reason. This is a valuable forum for discussion for these parents.

That’s my short and sweet list. What’s yours?