More Than Meets the Eye
Last week and this week have found me spending late nights sitting at tables in cold gymnasiums (note to self: wear long johns tomorrow night!), meeting with parents for Parent/Teacher Conferences. The parents come around to each teacher on their child's schedule to "conference." I put out the word to the parents of my elementary students that they could meet with me at the middle school (last week) or high school (this week) if they wanted to chat with me about their child(ren) whom I work with in our District's GT program. The middle & high school parents are already here for the same purpose.
Around this time of year, my colleagues rib me good-naturedly about what my Parent/Teacher Conferences must be like. They'll say to me, "So what do you say to all those parents? 'Yup, you're kid's getting straight A's again. Gee, what on earth are we going to do about him?!?'" What they don't realize is that the parents of my students often confide some serious issues to me or pose some heavy questions. They often don't feel comfortable bringing it to the child's regular classroom teacher. Or sometimes the issue/question involves the child's teacher. Or for other questions, they know that I have background knowledge about gifted kids that classroom teachers often don't have (because it was never taught to them, not because they can't develop that knowledge.) Here's a sampling for you of what Parent/Teacher Conferences are really like for a Gifted Education Specialist:
* A parent of an elementary student asks me how to deal with the following situation: Her daughter came home in tears one day, sobbing for an hour, because the teacher (from the child's perspective) has repeatedly held her up in front of the class (figuratively, of course) as an example to the other students... something along the lines of, "See, kids, THIS is how it's supposed to be done." The child feels terribly uncomfortable about this. She's deeply sensitive. She wants the other kids to like her and respect her, and it's hard to accomplish that when the teacher is using you as the public (i.e. not anonymous) model.
* A parent of a middle school boy says, "I'm worried my child will develop an ulcer. He worries so much about everything. He strives for perfection and agonizes when he doesn't achieve it." She wanted to know strategies for helping her child to reach a healthy balance with his perfectionism. She wants to know how to head off the ulcer before it actually appears. (Yay for being pro-active!)
* A parent of an upper elementary child says, "I need some advice before we conference with our child's teacher." She wanted to know how to broach the subject tactfully and yet still get her point across. The child is apparently being used as the classroom tutor, spending much of her day helping the other kids learn the material (i.e. doing the teacher's job) and therefore not being able to use her time to advance her own learning.
* One of my high school girls meets with me at the table, passing her report card across for me to see. "So why the C in Senior English?" Turns out it's finally challenging for her and she's not sure how to ask the teacher for help. She's never had to do that before.
* The parent of a middle school boy is flabbergasted. His grades in a couple classes vacillate between A+ and F... 100% or 0%. If he finds the assignment interesting and worthy of his time, he does it. If he feels he already knew the material, he doesn't "bother" doing the assignment because he doesn't see the point in wasting time on a repetitive assignment when he knew the material before the lesson. He prefers to put his time into assignments that require the learning of new material, rather than the mindless repetition of already-mastered material.
* One of my elementary girls approaches the table... She's been following her father around as he visits her older brother's teachers. And out of the mouths of babes she says, "I never knew before that my brother was such a good kid!"
* The parent of a middle schooler asks, "How do I help my child develop good work habits in school before he gets to high school?" He moved here recently and had previously rather skated through school without much effort.
* Two of my boys, one a middle schooler and the other in elementary school, approach my table with their parents. The older boy is already planning out his independent project that he'll do in my Advanced Studies class second semester and has questions about how to accomplish certain aspects of it. The younger one asks me a string of thought-provoking questions: "How come some kids don't seem to care about school? What can I do now to prepare myself to skip a level in Math when I'm in middle school? How did you know I needed to be in GT? How come Aaron uses his intelligence for bad instead of for good?"
* A mother of two elementary girls seeks advice about how to approach the school and encourage the incorporation of more leveled Math groups so the advanced students can move at a pace that better matches their learning abilities. She is also confused about what to do about her youngest, who is pretty much caught between two grade levels right now. She may need to be grade skipped at some point, and her mother is asking "how do we determine if and when the time is right to do that? What consideration do we have to give to the fact that she has an older sister in a numerically close grade level? Great in-classroom accommodations are being made for her this year, but what if that doesn't happen in a future year?"
Teaching gifted kids isn't a cake-walk of perfect kids with perfect grades and perfect behavior. It's a complex array of unique kids with quirky issues... who happen to usually do well in school. Assuming all is well because they have great grades may lead to overlooking some rather serious issues. I consider it an important aspect of my job to educate the parents of my students (and the students themselves) about these potential issues so that they're knowledgeable enough to speak up if/when they arise. Through this blog, I hope to do the same for many of you as well.