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Seeking Teachers for Gifted Children

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Hello, everyone :o) I apologize that it’s been awhile since you’ve heard from me. You may recall from my last post that I was in the midst of organizing and hosting our annual state gifted conference. It was a huge undertaking, but a very valuable one. Aside from wearing myself out that week (two or three hours of sleep each night, working 18-20 hours a day on conference tasks), I ended up getting sick after it was all over. Go figure ;o) So I am finally working my way back out of the swamp! I will make up for lost time with you in the coming weeks and months.

A few months back, I was interviewed by two different people who each asked me essentially the same question: What makes for a great teacher for gifted children?

The first interview was by Michael Shaughnessy of EdNews. The second was by a college student studying Education, a future teacher who is already asking important questions about the gifted students she will encounter in her classroom. I thought that I would expand upon my answer to their question for all of you here, as many of you are either parents of gifted children trying to find the right placement for your child, or are teachers trying to find the right way to reach these interesting students.

If you are a teacher, chances are extremely slim that you learned any extensive information about or strategies for gifted students when you were in your teacher-prep classes. If you are a parent of a gifted child, you can almost count on your child’s teacher having learned as of yet very little about the unique learning needs of gifted students. The frustrating reality is that most teachers enter the classroom for the first time with almost no background knowledge about the unique academic, social, and emotional needs of gifted students, let alone any strategies for reaching and challenging them in the classroom. It’s not that they don’t want to know. Of our thousands of higher education institutions in America, only eighty-one of them offer coursework in gifted education (such as programs for a minor, a Masters, or a PhD). It seems the standard amount of exposure that most pre-service teachers have to information about gifted students is one single hour in one class. Thankfully, there are exceptions to this less-than-bare-minimum standard, but it still remains the scope of coverage for the vast majority of our pre-service teachers. Yet inevitably, these same teachers will have gifted children in their classrooms, gifted children the teachers are now ill-prepared to adequately understand and challenge.

All teachers have the capacity to become great teachers for gifted kids, and the factors that make for such a teacher begin with understanding and accommodations. This means that the teacher has developed (or is developing) an understanding of gifted learners, their academic needs, and their social and emotional needs. That understanding is then followed by appropriate accommodations. Once the teacher understands where the gifted child is coming from, the teacher then validates that by making targeted, appropriate curricular accommodations for that child. What these kids need most is for us to recognize and acknowledge their learning needs and then DO SOMETHING about it. A very ineffective teacher for a gifted child would be one who said, "You have already mastered this year's multiplication curriculum, but I still want you to do the same worksheets as everyone else because it wouldn't be fair to the other kids if I let you do something different."

It sounds absurd, I know, but sadly it happens in classrooms across our country every day. Who it's really not fair for is the gifted child whose learning is being *stunted* in that sort of situation!

A great teacher for a gifted child is one who is knowledgeable about gifted learners, is able to assess the child's zone of proximal development, and is prepared to take the steps necessary to move the child on from that point. As a nation, we need to make great improvements in preparing our teachers to do this.

It's not that most teachers don't want to do this for the gifted children in their classrooms. They very often do. It's just that we haven't always given them knowledge of or access to the right tools with which do it. Those tools are out there (things like curriculum compacting, acceleration, telescoping, etc.). We need to overcome the barriers that prevent our teachers from using these tools. Those barriers can be things like an inflexible structure or schedule, misunderstandings and misinformation about gifted learners, a focus (rightly so) on raising the floor but forgetting at the same time to lift the ceiling, and the mistaken belief that gifted children will make it just fine on their own (few people know, for example, that up to 20% of drop-outs test in the gifted range). Our gifted children have just as much right as any other child to LEARN in school. A great teacher for a gifted learner is one who understands and acts upon this principle.

I would add that gifted children do seem to appreciate certain traits in their teachers beyond what I have said above. If the teacher is curious, has outside interests, shares his or her talents with the students, and is honest when he or she doesn't know the answer to a question (but is willing to find out), the gifted students will have additional respect for that teacher because they so deeply relate to curiosity, passionate interests, and the humble desire to further one's knowledge.

So, what further advice do I have for all the teachers out there who want to remedy their lack of prior knowledge about gifted students? First, make some effort to understand these kids… continue to learn about them, to learn about what school is like for them, and to consider just how different their learning abilities actually are. Since schools typically don’t offer professional development about gifted students and gifted education or differentiation strategies, any teacher wanting to learn how to better serve these kids is likely going to have to take the initiative to seek out that knowledge and understanding on his or her own. Your state gifted association probably hosts a conference each year aimed at helping teachers (and parents) with precisely this issue… learning more about gifted students and how to better serve them. Other great conferences that have an in-depth focus for learning are EduFest in Boise, ID, and Confratute in Storrs, CT. Second, I would also encourage you to read books, ASK QUESTIONS, and visit some great sites on the web, such as HoagiesGifted, SENG, and A Nation Deceived. And last but most important, talk to the kids. Ask your gifted students about their school experiences. Find out how much of the day they are challenged and how much of the day they are repeating information they already know. Ask them what it’s like to be gifted in school today. Often, hearing it directly from them is all the impetus needed to propel us on to further change.

Welcome to the journey :o)

20 Comments

You mentioned that only a small percentage of American teacher training programs have courses in gifted ed.

I've been trying to find out more about teacher preparation programs in gifted education, but I have not found a comprehensive list, nor a resource that actually compares programs.

I understand that NAGC and CEC recently developed standards for teacher knowledge and skills. Is there such a thing as a CEC-endorsed or NAGC-endorsed or NCATE-endorsed gifted education preparation program?

In deaf education preparation programs there is a CED (Council on Education of the Deaf) endorsement process, and CED-endorsed programs are viewed to make candidates more competitive in the job market.

Are there currently any resources that could help prospective students compare the quality and scope of gifted ed programs. I would love to see a web listing like the one at http://www.deafed.net/PageText.asp?hdnPageId=120

Thanks in advance.

Tamara,
As always, you are an inspiration! I love reading your posts!

Could you post the list of 77 places that teach gifted ed? It seems that list is not widely distributed.

Thank you for this truthful, but hopeful, post. I would like to add that training on how to teach twice exceptional kids (LD/gifted) is even more rare.

Thanks for the continued work in the field of G/T education. As a coordinator of gifted services in my district I do alot of training of both classroom and my own G/T staff. One of the area's that I share with them is a synthesis of the research the ideal traits of the G/T teacher seen from the gifted students eyes. Here are the results: the most common attributes of ideal G/T teachers from the student perspective are:
1. Teachers that care (establishing a trusting relationship)
2. Teachers that are knowledgeable (can carry on an indepth conversation with students on issues/areas of interest.
3. Teachers of distinctive character (honesty, integrity, etc.)
4. Teachers that embrace change (adaptability and tolerance for ambiguity)
5. Teachers that are empathetic to G/T students (understanding)

I know you touched on these traits already but I thought hearing from the kids themselves would be helpful.

Hi. I am a gifted education coordinator for a district of 21,000 students in the West. I have also just finished my Ph.D. in gifted education. I've been involved with NAGC for many years, and I believe that there is a list of graduate programs in the field that is available through NAGC. You can email them on their website and someone will get back to you soon with information.
I agree with Tamara that there is little pre-service information. In my town there is a small college that does some teacher education. I have been invited to speak to classes there because the students are hungry for knowledge. Our state, Colorado, has designed online courses for regular classroom teachers on such gifted education topics as Nature and Needs, Differentiating for Gifted Students, Social-Emotional Needs, Higher-Level Thinking Skills, Creativity, etc. They are great classes! Each time I teach one, I am amazed at the insights teachers make into their own practice. I think other states should look at this model, because it is easy to implement and provides needed information to those in the classroom.
We also all need to encourage our state higher education commissions to change the requirements for teacher education programs, to make them more relevant to the diversity that teachers need to deal with today. They are the ones that set those standards for higher education - then the courses will follow.

I am sending your article, Tamara, on to colleagues in my school district and will share it in professional development workshops with full credit to your blog.

Thank you so much for saying so well that which we in the field have been trying to communicate for so long.

As a state gifted group long time volunteer, I feel your "pre and post conference pain" [aka been there, done that] and know that the adrenaline rush of the event often leads to a defenseless and overtired body.... hence the post conference inevitable illness.

Feel better and know that your work is valued and very important. I look forward to more dialog here.

I used to get auto email alerts when you posted but they no longer come through. Advice for this problem?

Thank you again!

I have worked with gifted children as a classroom-based teacher, as an enrichment teacher and as an administrator. In addition to everything that has been said, those working with the gifted should be flexible,
have a sense of humor, use a rich conversational vocabulary, develop lessons that incorporate student collaboration, writing, and hands-on activities to drive theme-based learning. Learning and teaching should be fun.

Thank you, everyone, for your valuable contributions! I love the dialogue.

Many asked for more details about *which* colleges and universities offer coursework and whether there were any standards for teacher preparation in gifted education. Full details of both items were recently posted at the NAGC website http://www.nagc.org and my newest post today tells more about them http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/unwrapping_the_gifted/2008/05/seeking_teachers_for_gifted_ch_1.html

Roberta - I am checking into your question about why you are no longer getting the email alerts. My TeacherMag contact is out of town until next. I'll let you know what I find out. In the meantime, one option would be to sign up for the RSS feeds. (click the little orange box under my picture at the top of this page)

I am presenting to future teachers this coming Friday and I have named my presentation The Short, Short Course on Gifted Students and Gifted Education since it will be a 40 minute presentation to H.S. seniors.

I will incorporate this material into my presentation. Thank you!

Elaine in NJ

Hi Tamara,

I appreciate your blog and your obvious passion for what you do. I have some questions and concerns about G/T that I am hoping you can answer. First of all, there is a lot of mention of the kinds of learning environments and teachers that help promote success of G/T learners. For example, Mike wrote:

"Here are the results: the most common attributes of ideal G/T teachers from the student perspective are:
1. Teachers that care (establishing a trusting relationship)
2. Teachers that are knowledgeable (can carry on an in-depth conversation with students on issues/areas of interes)t.
3. Teachers of distinctive character (honesty, integrity, etc.)
4. Teachers that embrace change (adaptability and tolerance for ambiguity)
5. Teachers that are empathetic to G/T students (understanding)"

I agree with Mike, but I would also like to add that ALL students would thrive under this type of educator. There isn't a single child out there that doesn't appreciate an appropriate challenge and an enthusiastic teacher. There is so much talk about creating this kind of environment for G/T students, but why aren't we talking about creating this environment for ALL students?

I truly hate the labels and special treatment that often come with G/T learners. First of all, the term "gifted" sounds highly elitist. Also, tracking has a negative affect on learners that are not deemed “gifted.” These kids are well aware that they are not good enough to be “gifted.” Students see it when G/T students are pulled out because they are “gifted” and even the youngest know when they are in the reading group for “stupid” kids (regardless of the label a teacher may use). How does that affect how these students see themselves as learners? I see myself as a highly intelligent and capable individual, but I was not identified as gifted when I was a child, even though I was consistently at the top of my class and often competed in the classroom with those labeled “gifted.” I will always question why my teachers did not see that special level of potential in me. I will always resent it. It is likely, in fact, that my biggest problem with G/T is actually personal!

Finally, gifted learners are hard to identify, and a disproportional number of gifted students come from privileged white backgrounds. If not implemented correctly, gifted programs simply contribute to the status quo. I recognize that you work on a Montana reservation (I’m from Missoula myself!), so I’d be interested in hearing your opinions on this point.

Please do no misunderstand me: I am all for differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all learners. I simply do not like the labels and I do not like the misconception that G/T students deserve a better education than our “regular” students. To me, the perfect classroom is one that fosters questioning and experimentation and leaves room for each learner to explore the material at his or her own pace. For this reason, I am a huge proponent of project- and problem-based learning, as well as the workshop method, especially at the upper levels, where the disconnect between what our students need and what they often get is startling.

Again, thank you for your passion and service. I look forward to reading your response!

Thank you for calling attention to the needs of the gifted student in public education. I raised two gifted young men and currently teach on a gifted team. These students would rather not be labeled as gifted, but their own team name, comparable to every other student on campus. Second, they require individualized instruction and pacing to meet their academic needs. Many a basic ed. teacher will tell me that " you have it made because you teach the gifted". That's simply not true. There is such dicontinuity between these students' emotional and intellectual progress, that we find outselves teaching the families how to cope with the gifted as well as the students. All students, regardless of learning level, deserve a caring, relevant, focused environment that accents their strengths and supports their weaknesses. That's why we teach.

What a wonderful site you have here. I hope you realize how much you are helping, just by getting the word out (a phrase that segues very nicely into my main objective for writing!). I also hope there are no objections to my posting the following here:

In 1999, I and a few other parents who had tried everything we could think of to get our local school to take our gifted children's needs into account finally just pulled them out of the system and started a homeschooling group. Long story short, those children who stayed with us long term moved on very successfully to high school, both public and private. The last of our founding children graduated two years ago, and her mother and I decided to keep our venture going as a private school.

The reason I am writing at this moment is because we are looking for a teacher. We will have seven to eight fantastic kids in September, ages 9 through 12. We need a general ed. teacher who is bright, enthusiastic, warm, has a great sense of humor and loves to learn! (Actually, what I am REALLY hoping to find is some dedicated individual who is also interested in joining with me to turn this wonderful place into the self-sustaining, successful school I know it can be. It is so needed in this area and has done so much for so many already.) Please see our website, www.pcclschool.org, and then email me at krysiahw@aol.com if you are interested or have any leads for me.

Thank you very much.

P.S., I forgot to mention that, as our general ed. teacher, you will not be expected to know/do it all! We have part-time instructors who come in weekly to teach Japanese, creative writing, art, drama, music, robotics, science, and math.

Idaho is one of the states that requires a teacher for GT...
Lewis Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho has a good program and online courses are available. I almost have my endorsement in GT and have taken many of the online courses and learned much.
This is a good way for teachers already teaching to get some prof. development in GT area and the online courses are great for those who need to work around busy schedules. EdUFest is the Idaho GT big conference and well worth attending.
Deb

This was my first time seeing this, and I found it helpful to scroll through the posts, and read all of the opinions. I have a master's in special ed. and am almost done with my certification in gifted education. I was a "gifted" high school drop out, so I can relate to a lot of what has been posted, it is true, and I do believe we focus too much on the lower end of the spectrum, where I have been teaching for the past ten years.
I look forward to coming back to this resource now that I am beginning my journey in instructing gifted students in addition to my students with disabilities.
Thank you

This is a response to Cristy's post. You make some points that are commonly held by others, and as the parent of a child who is gifted, I think I can address a few of your comments. I have put parts of your post in quotation marks then responded below.

"I agree with Mike, but I would also like to add that ALL students would thrive under this type of educator. There isn't a single child out there that doesn't appreciate an appropriate challenge and an enthusiastic teacher."

That is very true and due to NCLB (in my humble opinion) the very life force that makes teaching what it is and should be - "an appropriate challenge" with "an enthusiastic teacher" is going away for more than just gifted students. There should be discussion about improving education for ALL kids, but the needs of G/T kids need to be addressed also because, to paraphrase Tamara (probably poorly), serving G/T kids is NOT (or shouldn't be) about being elitest or a special "club" for the rich kids, it's about meeting the unique academic NEEDS of these children.

"Also, tracking has a negative affect on learners that are not deemed “gifted.” These kids are well aware that they are not good enough to be “gifted.” Students see it when G/T students are pulled out because they are “gifted” and even the youngest know when they are in the reading group for “stupid” kids (regardless of the label a teacher may use)."

Even if students are not grouped by ability, they basically KNOW how well everyone in their class performs. To not meet the needs of some students because it makes others feel bad is to deny the needs of a significant portion of our children.

"I do not like the misconception that G/T students deserve a better education than our “regular” students."

The thing is it's not about getting a BETTER education, it's about getting an education at all. From my experiences with my child, he's often left to fend for himself because he already "gets it." That's very common for gifted kids. How is that better? All that's being asked for gifted kids is that their academic NEEDS be met.

"To me, the perfect classroom is one that fosters questioning and experimentation and leaves room for each learner to explore the material at his or her own pace. For this reason, I am a huge proponent of project- and problem-based learning, as well as the workshop method, especially at the upper levels, where the disconnect between what our students need and what they often get is startling."

I whole-heartedly agree, and I think most teachers would agree also. Our education system has become one that teaches to the least strongest denominator and the perfect classroom you listed above is rarely seen anymore.

Although I'm not Tamara, I feel strongly enough about this topic that I had to answer some of your questions. I hope I was helpful.


Please help! My nephew is more than extrmely bright. He is almost 6 years old and was put into Kindergarten in California in September, 2008. They quickly realized that he was reading, writing and doing arithmetic. He has had his own computer since he was 2 and has mastered many computer games geared toward preschool thru 2nd grades. His current school has put him up to 2nd grade, but they are reluctant to do anything further for social reasons. His family is planning to move to Montana before the end of this school year. What resources are available and what can we do to get him to a school or program that can handle him? He has been tested and it was determined that he surpasses 5th grade level in most subjects. His preschool teacher has really worked with his socialization as we do understand the emotional issues involved. At this stage, after 2 months at a public school, he is intentionally giving wrong answers in class so as to try to fit in with his peers. He is also refusing to go to school 5 days per week. He thinks that since he knows all the answers on all the tests and works ahead in the workbooks, there is no reason for him to sit in the classroom. Obviously, we have to do something with him. What do we do? Where should we begin? It's not as though high intelligence doesn't run in our family, but we would like to stop putting out anti-social geeks into the adult population. My brother is awful and will not even answer a phone. Any advise you can give would be greatly appreciated!

I teach Gifted high school students in New Mexico, and believe that the focus for teaching Gifted students needs to be a holistic one; as one of my "gifted" students said to me, when told that the AP courses were thought by our district to address the needs of Gifted students, "But not all Gifted students are advanced." High fives! The misperception that "Gifted" means "advanced" is largely responsible for their holistic educational needs not being met; Gifted student struggle, according to Dabrowski, in the areas of what he called "overexcitabilities", and what I have taught my students to call their "intensities", as no one likes to be told that he/she is "over"-anything. These areas are: Psychomotor(often misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD); Sensual( often misdiagnosed with sensory disorders/issues, sometimes autism): Intellectual; Imaginational: and Emotional(often misdiagnosed as having Emotional Disturbances/ Disorders). Basically speaking, Gufted people are highly sensitive people, the ones people often say are such; they are often told that they "think too much", or "over-analyze". My "advisement" caseload consists of 27 Gifted students with whom I meet twice a month for 1/2 each time, and with that 1/2 hour, I have been teaching them what it means to be Gifted, as they are the ones who need to know. It is helping them, but our next focus will be on strategies that can help once they have determined which of the five "intensities" they possess. These strategies are designed to help the "whole" person, including the five named intensities as well as educational/academic, study, and life management skills. My students' responses are reflecting to me their desire to learn more, as well as their comfort in doing so, but I believe that this is only the start. AP or advanced course do not, in fact, answer the needs of Gifted students; rahter, the formation of classes FOR the Gited is essential, and those wo teach them must know and understand these challenging and wonderful "quirks" of those who are "Gifted", as defined be the state where one attends school. In New Mexico, Gifted students are classified as such under the umbrella of Special Education, and I think this is where they belong. Special Education can offer the necessary supports to these students, which is what they need. Throwing advanced coursework at them is not the answer...

This is also in response to Tamera:

"...tracking has a negative affect on learners that are not deemed “gifted.” These kids are well aware that they are not good enough to be “gifted.” "

As a child who grew up in a small town going to school with the same 20-25 students for K-10th grade (I was unlabled, unless you include the not-so-nice labels my schoolmates gave me, such as "Professor") and received no special instruction until my mom conned me into applying to a geek high school an hour's drive away).

It took me until I was 30 years old to put myself in my classmates shoes and realize how frustrating it must've been for THEM to be in a class with ME: I was always *the* top, often without trying (I skipped enough school in 8th grade to be legally held back, but I was also the Valedictorian -- I say this not with pride, but sadness looking back my time was wasted "When I look back at all the crap I learned... it's a wonder I can think at all").

If any of my classmates started to excel in a specific subject area I saw this as somebody to compete with/against (without malice -- I was merely looking for a challenge) and focused my energies in that area (while maintaining my top ranking in the other subject areas).

I can easily see how having someone such as me in a class could result in the normal students not trying to be the best they can be anymore as they'd either come in second-best to me again, or wouldn't be able to maintain it once I recognized them as competition.

On the flip side, when I went to the geek high school, they refused to class rank. I knew that there were a lot of kids there "smarter" than me, and hoped that I was somewhere in the middle of the pack. For both my Junior and Senior years I took courses with Freshman and Seniors (due to attending mid-sequence). Of course I self-console that they had more opportunity as they grew up in a University town all their life and had access to information. Still, they are my closest friends today, even though I only spent 2 years with them, compared to the 12 years I spent with my hometown classmates.

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