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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.


Tamara- you provide many authentic examples of why programs for high ability students and specialists who understand how to implement them is a need not a want in our schools.

I love reading your blog and I always find the subjects you choose to be quite insightful. As a parent of two gifted girls, I appreciate the thought provoking subject matter and often forward this to their teachers and principal - who I am sure read you now too!

Charlene & Stacey ~ Thank you for your comments and feedback! I appreciate knowing that my style and topics are reaching a receptive audience.

I can't help but feel that you are simply put an excellent teacher and particularly sensitive to parent-child-teacher relationships. While the issues change, the same need to listen and problem solve is there for the other kids, too, but the teachers don't bother or don't have time. It's not until the kid is identified as a problem (gifted, LD, whatever) that any sort of true communication even starts (maybe). For some reason, this post saddens me-- not for your kids, but for all the others.

I find your blog very informative and filled with information for teachers who WANT to teach gifted kids. But, it has been my experience that not all teachers WANT to teach gifted kids. Do you have any criteria for when parents need to decide/accept that their child's school just chooses not to try to meet their kids' needs and how/when to decide to give up and try something else?


As a grown-up "gifted kid," mother of gifted kids and also a pre-service teacher, I appreciate your thoughts and perspective on many different levels. I find myself nodding my head and saying, "Uh huh, uh huh, that's right," while also trying to keep your advice in mind for when I have my own class. I'm so glad you're bringing up these issues. Gifted kids are so often ignored because they're "doing fine," even when they're not.

So, what did you say to the parents whose middle school son either excelled or failed in all his classes?

(Loved your presentation at NAGC, by the way!)

Thanks Tamara for blogging this very interesting and familiar information. This Buckley Report on Federal under-funding of gifted education may interest some of you:


Also, in North Carolina's capital county, Wake County, gifted funding is 4% per ADM (average daily membership) but the percentage of gifted students is roughly 17%. Unbelievable.

One piece of sobering thinking that needs to be mentioned is that skipping grades is not always the best thing for a child. Is a child emotionally mature enough to handle socializing with older children?

Think before you "skip" the child another grade. Not every child adapts well. A younger child may be bullied by the older kids and have few friends. At least talk with the teachers about how your child will handle older children.

Another issue to consider is that adulthood is full of boring repetitive tasks. Isn't life just like that? If a child refuses to do lessons just because the child feels the material is boring and he or she already "knows how to do that" why are folks concerned? Tell the child to just get the "A" and get rid of the attitude. Being very intelligent does not automatically endow a child with common sense.

I was interested in your blog for several reasons: 1) as a pre-service teacher, 2) as a parent of an extremely bright child.

I think the key as a teacher really is differentiating your instruction to support the needs of your students. Unfortunately, it can be a daunting task to accomplish. From my observation, "gifted" children are often overlooked in class because they're doing "fine" without help. "Fine" isn't really enough. Gifted students deserve the same consideration that other students receive and that means being challenged academically.

One of the most frustrating things I hear as a parent is that my child is "perfect". As a parent I am not looking for "faults" and trying to drive my student. I am looking for realistic areas of growth for my child to be satisfied with her school experience. Thank you for a timely blog.

As A Band Director I see students for 4 years and work with them in small group lessons which facillitates really getting to know kids. Their parents have the same type of questions for the Band Director as the GT teacher here. I loved the "unique kids with quirky issues". Meeting the needs of those students is both physically and mentally exhausting but, also gratifying! The reason we become teachers. ..to change the world one student at a time.

As a teacher in a private school, I giggled when I read a lot of your examples. Our children are tested before they are accepted into our school. I find that I hear many of the same comments. Do you have any thoughts about these questions? This is my third year with this school and I am always looking for ideas. I feel that parent/teacher partnership is incredibly important.

Thank you so much for this discussion on students who need challenge in school. I've two children, who thrive on academic challenge, and two questions I'm hoping you can help with.
1. The pros and cons of skipping a grade for children who are academically bright but socially/emotionally at grade level. How can parents help children who need challenge but aren't ready for the dating/drug issues of high school? 2. Full inclusion classrooms - are there any studies showing they academically benefit students in the top 25% of the class? We live in a school district with full inclusion and are continually told that it benefits all students, but I see my now 8th grader either bored or used as a teacher's aide. I often feel she is choosen to include in highly inclusive classes because the teachers know she is a kind child but worry about her lack of challenge.

Lynn - my mum used to tell me that school was boring as a preparation for life as life was boring. She stopped when, after some considerable thought, I announced that if adult life was as boring as school, I would commit suicide. I was serious. I just couldn't see the point of going through my life as totally utterly bored as I was at school.

Luckily, adult life has been far more interesting and exciting and I have not been tempted to commit sucide even once. I do have to do some boring reptetitive tasks, but I do have some interesting bits in my life. And the boring repetitive bits have some point, like testing, or housework.

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