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Been There, Done That

Having a three-day-weekend has finally given me some time to catch up on watching the various DVR picks I've stored during the past month. Who has free time during the first few weeks of school? Well, one of the movies I recorded was the biographical TV movie, "The Ron Clark Story." This 2006 Golden Globe nominee stars Matthew Perry as the teacher who leaves a small town in NC to go teach in Harlem. Following the typical triumphant theme of "Stand and Deliver" from the 1980s, this film inspires teachers to raise test scores by teaching the KIDS not the STANDARDS. I admit that I bawled my eyes out at the end, but there was another emotion that I experienced...

Having a three-day-weekend has finally given me some time to catch up on watching the various DVR picks I've stored during the past month. Who has free time during the first few weeks of school? Well, one of the movies I recorded was the biographical TV movie, "The Ron Clark Story." This 2006 Golden Globe nominee stars Matthew Perry as the teacher who leaves a small town in NC to go teach in Harlem. Following the typical triumphant theme of "Stand and Deliver" from the 1980s, this film inspires teachers to raise test scores by teaching the KIDS not the STANDARDS. I admit that I bawled my eyes out at the end, but there was another emotion that I experienced.

Let me share that my background in teaching is diverse. My first two years of teaching were in a poor, rural elementary school where parents told me I had no business working with their kids because I was white. Every child I taught had standardized test scores in the 10th - 30th percentile range, that is until they had me for two years. I looped with those kids and taught them both third and fourth grade, and most were above the 50th - 60th percentile mark before starting fifth grade. Many teachers who have worked in similar situations have the same success story!

Having said that, my next few years were spent teaching students in the average to above average range, and some of my students were gifted learners. I was the underachieving gifted learner myself growing up, and very few teachers inspired me to reach my potential. Therefore, I wanted to earn my gifted certification so that I wouldn't let my gifted students fall through the cracks. Thanks to that certification, I now teach only gifted students in a special education program that identifies the specific needs of the gifted and provides challenges for their own academic growth.

Back to the movie. During the credits, I started feeling frustrated and a little angry. How many movies are going to be made about reaching the kids at the bottom of the spectrum? Thanks to No Child Left Behind, most of us are forced to teach towards the middle; many kids at the bottom are put into special tutoring groups with mentors, and they get special attention too. So, I'm left wondering, what about our high-achieving students?

I can tell you from my experience that gifted students have just as many social, emotional, and behavioral issues as students in the bottom 25th percentile. We teach the kids who are going to someday find the cure for cancer, run the country, manage civil defense, and head up other think tanks around the globe. Isn't anyone else concerned that they don't play well with others, they're too hard on themselves, and the lack simple organizational skills? (Of course, there are exceptions to every general statement.)

My point is that we all need to advocate for our group of kids - the ones that sit in regular ed classrooms with teachers who ignore them because they "can teach themselves." We need to spend time with the ones that are too hard on themselves and show them specifically what they've accomplished with small tasks during the learning process - whether it earned them an "A" or not. We need to understand that their peers often think they're "quirky" because they know every line from a "Star Wars" film or can build a replica of DNA with their eyes closed. They are often ostracized because they tuck in their shirts and wear pants with belts that actually fit them. YET - schools gladly take them on their rosters because they raise test scores and help school report cards, but how many of us have guidance counselors that offer special peer group sessions on perfectionism, eating disorders, anxiety, or other issues that plague our gifted kids?

This year, my partner Jill and I intend to bring some issues to light that hopefully stir some emotion in teachers across the nation the way this movie struck a chord with me. We want to hear what ideas you have that might save the sanity of some of our gifted kids. We want to know that others out there are as passionate as we are about supporting this special group, that sometimes thinks on a level above all of us. Please share with us the way we plan on sharing with you.

Thank you to Scholastic for recognizing that this group needs a little extra attention, and I challenge our audience to take this opportunity to help us shed some light on how we can support these learners. Special teachers and parents are listening, and we may be able to make a difference.

Have a great week!

Comments

Kathy Miller

I wrote a book last year about this very thing and published it myself because I wanted it to get to the classrooms where it was needed and I believed it to be a message for teachers and students. If you get a chance to read it here is the info:
A Spicy Little Dream ISBN# 978-1-4343-4955-2 on any major book dealer online or at Authorhouse.com
I wrote this book after listening to my GT students and how sad they were when they went back to the regular classroom after being in the pull out program for an hour a day three days a week. It broke my heart because I believe exactly as you do that this ignoring this group is devasting to a school district and a society. Kathy S Miller
Ben Milam Elementary, Harlingen. Tx. 78552

Jennifer Chandler

Kathy, thanks for the comment! I am SO encouraged by the idea that I'm not the only one feeling this way about our present educational system. I'd love to read your book, and it sounds like our students have a lot in common. At the middle school level, the students aren't pulled out anymore, as their regularly scheduled reading/English classes become their gifted classes, and I'm so blessed that the other teachers at our school make it a point to try and reach our gifted learners in other subject areas.

What's interesting to me is that you mention that your pullout program is only an hour a day three days a week. Our elementary pullout program is twice a week, but the kids are with the teachers two-and-a-half hours that day - either all morning or all afternoon. We serve our students five hours per week. It's just interesting to me that different states address the needs of gifted students in different ways. In South Carolina, where I taught previously, gifted ed wasn't considered special ed, so the kids did not have IEPs. In Tennessee, all gifted students who are identified officially have IEPs.

What worries me is that I just don't know if people certified in gifted education are deciding which routes to take to reach our gifted learners.

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Gifted Learners are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.