Sunlight streamed through the panes on the left as she walked down the corridor. On the right was a row of classrooms. Those with windows facing the hallway were reserved for the youngest students, the glass allowing parents whose curiosity bettered them to sneak a peek at their blossoming scholars in action.
Though she couldn’t distinguish the source, nausea permeated her stomach and her chest tightened. She had no particular cause for concern, yet she felt apprehension around what might be said. Siena was a quiet child who kept to herself in group situations, sometimes to the point of withdrawal. The kid was really smart, though, and able to read people and situations with the keen observance of a much older, wiser girl. She finally reached Siena’s teacher, they shook hands, and she braced herself for whatever might come next.
They sat. And on the table in front of them was a portfolio of Siena’s work, an encapsulated view of the four-year-old’s educational accomplishments.
The cover was flipped and landed lightly on the table. “You know,” the teacher began, “Siena is an unusual child.” There was a five-second pause that seemed much longer. And the teacher continued, “I believe Siena is gifted—profoundly gifted.” There were several more tense moments before the teacher broke the silence again, “That’s a good thing—really—a very good thing.”
It was strange sitting in front of her computer typing the words “gifted child.” How had she gotten here? The last thing she expected, an idea not even close to being on her radar, was now staring her in the eyes. Sure, Siena was advanced, able to do things children several years older were just learning to do. But that was merely her personality; that wasn’t “gifted.” Gifted was Bobby Fischer, Mozart, Van Gogh—tortured souls whose brilliance led them to greatness or drove them to insanity, or both.
Seeking to solve the enigma of Siena led her to the clues that would help her unravel her own mystery—the one that had plagued her for years. She began to research—the characteristics of giftedness (yep, Siena had most of those), the intensities (you bet, Siena had a fistful), battles with perfectionism (um, sure). She was quickly faced with not just Siena but herself. (If a mother shrieks and no one hears it, does that shriek still occur?) Suddenly, the confusion cleared, the school misfit fell into place, and the wrong thinking seemed right.
Now, as she typed quickly and read intently, she found she wasn’t alone. There were others like her, and resources to explain her and these others to themselves. Where before she felt powerless to the whims of the forces within her mind, she was now beginning to understand the whirlwind that arose seemingly from nowhere, wreaking havoc and leaving rubble in the wake of her once steady thought process.
She knew that further investigation would be required to understand both Siena and herself. But, sparked by one teacher’s observations and her own urgent inquisitiveness, she found that, after years of feeling like a cold case, she was reopened with fascinating leads to pursue.
Looking for leads of your own, start here:
This post is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Blog Hop, “Mysteries: The Weird Stuff.” To read other contributions, please click on the graphic below or copy and paste the following URL into your search bar:
Thanks to Pamela S. Ryan for the great graphic!
In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Day 2016, I present…
Five teachers I appreciate like nobody’s business!
I’ve run across a number of pretty good teachers over the years, but these are the they-don’t-make-enough-ceramic-mugs-to-show-my-appreciation educators I’m talking about here!
Mrs. R: It’s a little blurry, but I think I might have been kind of a mess in sixth grade—probably in a bunch of grades before that, too. Oh, I was a good student. But more a standard teacher pleaser than a standout. And I had a few other things going on—trying to fit it where I didn’t, trying to avoid getting teased while apparently providing ammunition for teasers, and trying to figure out how I could get myself somewhere else. If memory serves, Mrs. R was a first-year teacher and I’m not really sure she always had control of the class. That said, she helped me gain control over myself. And that was enough for me. I can’t remember a lot of what I learned in sixth grade, but I remember how Mrs. R made me feel.
Mr. M, the poet: Can you say mentor, coach, counselor? A soft-spoken man with a class of misfits. What could I possibly learn? A lot. We had it all—the social activist, the feminist, the science fiction nerd, the loner, the comedian, and me. These kids could write—I mean, WRITE. And Mr. M made me feel as if I could, too. I loved that class. For all of our differences, we saw similarities and accepted and supported one another for who we were. Mr. M facilitated that. And he had really cool penmanship to boot!
Mrs. B: Coincidence. Dumb luck. A higher power. Whatever you want to attribute it to, Mrs. B was a one-of-a-kind parent-tot and preschool teacher who just so happened to specialize in the study of brain development and giftedness. She was the first to use the word that would dictate the course of my life for decades to come. She got the kid, she got me, and she got IT. Didn’t need a test, didn’t need bells and whistles, didn’t need head-pounding-against-the-wall advocacy. Wow, were we spoiled!
Ms. H: Did somebody say project-based learning? Student-centered education? Makerspace? Ms. H was the poster child for, “Excuse our mess. We’re learning here.” She once said to me (I may be paraphrasing), “What would I put in a lesson plan? I never know for sure what I’m teaching ‘til the kids come in that day.” Yes, the classroom was student driven, but don’t confuse that with out of control. At one point, her students created a cardboard town, complete with a government, a constitution, and electricity. You try building one of those without expanding your science, math, writing, and social studies skills. And, by the way, it takes a lot of grit to build a city! It was full STEAM ahead in Ms. H’s classroom.
Mr. C: I’m not gonna lie, Mr. C was complicated. No doubt. But he made understanding gifted kids seem so simple. A guy who came, as he put it, “from the other side of the tracks” and proceeded to reset the rails. I hadn’t known him long when, in one conversation, he managed to provide more insight into the minds of gifted learners than I could store in my head. He had a way of reaching kids that had been written off or noticing those that had been overlooked. And, more often than not, he inspired students to look more deeply, to think more broadly, and to enjoy more fully. For Mr. C, education wasn’t merely about learning, it was about life.
So there you have it: Five educators who stand out. There are others, but they’ll have to wait for a future post.
For now, let me say…
To those teachers who gave me attendance cards so I could take roll in my pretend schoolhouse at home, to those who put me on bulletin board detail so I could feel more a part of the classroom (yea, I know you didn’t just want me for my mad construction-paper-cutting and stapling skills), to those who cast me in school plays so I could build my self-confidence (including roles as Grumpy and an ugly stepsister, but I won’t read too much into that), and to those who did all the other little big things you did over the course of my school years, I thank you.
And to those who helped me parent better and help set me on a course that would forever change the direction of my adult life, I thank you.
Note: The world lost two wonderful educators when Mr. M and Mr. C passed away. Perhaps they have met in that great classroom in the sky. I know they are both missed by the many students they left behind. May the lessons they taught live on.
We’re thrilled to watch young artists achieve greatness, do things that we deem beyond their years, perform at levels that exceed our expectations. But, when they begin to act their age—when the restlessness of their teens and twenties hits, some among us peer with judging eyes and find the charm of these artists’ talents lost to the immaturity, or even crassness, of their behavior. Think of the pop stars we’ve witnessed go from America’s darlings to targets for trolls and critics alike.
As a gifted young adult friend recently observed, “You think it’s tough growing up gifted. Just imagine growing up gifted under a magnifying glass.”
Popular gifted performers of all stripes face challenges similar to those that less-well-known gifted young people face.
Like asynchrony, for example.
These talented artists may create as if they’re years advanced but may still be years behind developmentally. Combine that with the fact that they may be controlled by parents, managers, and other adults who don’t really comprehend what giftedness is—the emotional and social facets as well as the intellectual and creative ones—or how it impacts these young people. How, then, can these kids truly understand themselves?
At worst, they spiral into addiction, risky behavior, or depression. At best, they have the support and resolve to not let either the lavish accolades or extreme criticism go to their heads and hearts, moving into adulthood relatively unscathed. Most, like the rest of us, land somewhere in-between.
And what about perfection and failure.
For some of these gifted young artists, perfectionism swirls as constant inner conflict. And, when they fall below their self-imposed thresholds, they do so in front of an audience—forced to learn from their mistakes as the crowd gathers ‘round, sometimes with proverbial rotten tomatoes in hand. And an applause-worthy encore doesn’t always follow.
Asynchrony, perfectionism, and intensities shadow these performers into early adulthood, where they may finally get their first taste of freedom—their golden opportunity to rebel. But, when artists we’ve relied upon to do one thing begin to experiment with others, they may make us uncomfortable. So, if their new paths lead to missteps, we are tempted to soothe ourselves with criticism. Eventually, the same creative drive that insists these artists reinvent themselves may lead them to break down.
The argument can be made that these performers receive great financial compensation and are afforded vast privileges that others can only dream of. True. But does that make them less sensitive, less vulnerable, more deserving of ridicule? Does their wealth and advantage preclude just reviews? Are their lapses of judgment worse than those of other gifted, but not famous, young people? When some among us begin to hold these well-known artists to different standards and treat them as if they’re less human because they’re more famous, is that fair?
In the end, the choice rests with each of us. Do we comment, gossip, and spread rumors? Or do we keep in mind that the behavior of these young gifted artists is often magnified to serve someone else’s purpose and that it is up to us to offer support to these members of the gifted population, just as we do to those who are not part of popular culture?
This post is part of the May Hoagies’ Blog Hop. To read more entries, click on the graphic below or copy and paste this URL into your browser:
Special thanks to Pamela S. Ryan for creating the graphic!