A friend, a phenomenal mom who helps provide her family a safe and loving home, who drives her kids from martial arts to sports to scouts to dance to Church, who volunteers alongside them with the handicapped and the poor, recently returned from a parent conference for her daughter. The school apologized they didn’t recognize her daughter’s mathematical giftedness sooner and offered to accelerate her a year in math. The girl had never complained, just patiently took the tests, did the homework, and kept her boredom to herself. Her story follows the path of many kids identified as gifted, many parents who I’ve met involved with thePa.Association of Gifted Education and the Beaver County Gifted.
Why did it take so long to discover this gift? Why didn’t teachers in grade school see it? Where are the filters and the screening to identify giftedness? What happens to students who enter adolescence painfully bored and unchallenged with school work?
This parent was lucky. She is in a school district that has a path blazed by teachers educated in gifted education and parent advocates of mathematically gifted students. There are processes in place for acceleration which helps them remind their math teachers to keep an eye out for the gifted ones.
While this math teacher is keeping her eye out for giftedness, she also needs to look for basic comprehension, preparedness for standardized tests, learning disabilities, autism, behavioral and emotional difficulties, victimization from abuse at home, victimization from abuse by bullies, the most up to date insights technological and psychological learning theories and classroom management, screen for cheating, supplement a lack of resources and supplies, communicate with parents, turn in lesson plans to administration, serve on curriculum development committee, make accommodations for underachieving students, and read through the emergency procedures for hurricanes, tornadoes, nuclear plant emergency, terrorist attacks, and school shooters (and care for her own personal families’ health, home, and travel needs).
It is too much. I’m reminded of the complexity of procedures Atul Gawande (Checklist Manifesto) describes for the operating room. Without checklists and systems in place, a single individual can no longer keep up with the knowledge and best practices available. I’m all for advocating with your state association for the checklists and systems that need to be in place to identify the gifted student (and the special need student). When a need is identified, a new set of problems arises. Resources are called into place to respond to the need, resources that are growing scarce in the ever shrinking pool of our nation’s education budgets.
An ever growing pool of involved parents is emerging, parents who are actively testing their students outside the school systems to identify special needs. It is the parents who are attending workshops and online seminars to become educated on best practices for their child’s individual needs. It is the parents who schedule a conference with teachers to hand over everything they’ve learned. The resulting partnership is fraught with all the pit falls of messy collaborative relationships.
I am teaching, this semester, a course at the Community College on Robotics engineering. The class was designed for middle school students, grades five to eight. We met for the first time last night, students arriving with their NXT robot kits in hand. The classroom was filled with students and parents, also learning to program so that they can coach the robotics team. What a phenomenal group of gifted students and gifted parents!
It will be very interesting to watch where the waters from this rising pool of parents spill over and how they effect the landscape growing a generation to shape a more beautiful and just world.