Myths and Misunderstanding: Teachers Who Don’t. Get. Gifted!

              PART TWO
First things first: I am a dyed-in-the-wool public school teacher at heart. I have my MEd, I’ve taught in many schools, and I was a also a mentor teacher. I understand and support the public schools.
When I say that myths and misunderstandings about giftedness abound in our school systems, I know this fact first-hand–there are schools, administrators and teachers who really don’t understand giftedness. Of course, this is not true of all teachers, but it is true of many who received little to no information about giftedness in their college education curriculum.  Now, with gifted children of my own, I was again made aware of this fact, very painfully, as I tried to advocate for my youngest gifted son at his last public school.
(There are many myths and misunderstandings about our gifted children, and you can read about them in this NAGC – National Association for Gifted Children – article.)
In the past, through many, many conversations, online and in person, with parents of gifted kids, I kept hearing a catch phrase used over and over by these parents when talking about their child’s experience with their regular classroom teacher. The phrase? They. just. don’t. get. gifted!  

Parents, teachers, and educational and mental health professionals who do get gifted, know and understand that our gifted children are creative thinkers and complex learners, they are intense and passionate, they have a strong sense of fairness and morality, they are very sensitive emotionally, and they have unique educational needs that must be met in order to be successful in the classroom. But when the adults who are in charge of your child’s education don’t get gifted,  the damaging effects on a gifted child can be long-lasting and even permanent.

I would like to believe that my youngest gifted son’s unfortunate experiences during his last year in public school were terrible, isolated examples of what can happen when schools don’t get gifted. Unfortunately, I have read and listened to story after story of what happens to a gifted child at school when teachers don’t understand her unique characteristics and learning needs. My youngest gifted son had teachers who believed all gifted students to be smart, responsible and earn good grades. During his last year in public school,  I called for teacher conferences, emailed teachers and tried to explain to his teachers and the administration that my son’s other-than-perfect grades were due to factors related to his giftedness –visual spatial learning style and perfectionism. We sought the opinion of a gifted consultant who specialized in gifted children. She also tried to advocate for our son. Nope, his school would have none of that.  He was gifted and he should be making excellent grades; his teachers believed his less-than-superior performance in the classroom was due to his poor work ethic, not his giftedness.
The last straw came when my son came home and told me two of his teachers had stopped him in the hall as he was running an errand for another teacher. They both scolded him, in the hallway, for his math grade. The teachers told him, “You’re smart, you should be making all A’s.”  And there you go, a shining example of the belief in the myth that all gifted kids excel in the classroom. Traumatic, damaging and emotionally scarring? Yes, telling any gifted child you expect them to make perfect scores because they are gifted can be emotionally damaging.
What is the solution to making sure all teachers get gifted? Training. I believe all teachers who have gifted students in their classroom should be thoroughly trained to understand the unique educational, social and emotional needs of gifted children. Training should focus on dispelling the myths and misunderstandings that many teachers have about giftedness.  Teachers should learn how to recognize in gifted children the common symptoms of underachievement, depression, perfectionism and anxiety. Challenging the teacher, bringing up inequities and unfairness, unexpected failing grades and disruptive behavior brought on by boredom in the classroom should all be recognized by teachers to  be common issues of gifted children without an appropriate education. Training teachers to understand giftedness is an ideal way for cash-strapped school districts with little to no gifted programming to begin to implement much-needed acceleration and differentiation in the regular classroom. With concise, effective training that is also cost-effective, we can increase understanding of gifted children, dispel the myths about giftedness, and all teachers can then get gifted!

17 Comments on “Myths and Misunderstanding: Teachers Who Don’t. Get. Gifted!

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  2. They also don’t seem to understand that singling kids out over and over as “do it like her” can be very destructive to a gifted child.

    • Yikes! I’m having trouble finding the words to say how wrong “do it like her” is.

      My youngest son had a teacher who divided up the class into ability groups and called the top group her “favorites” and repeated to the rest of the class that they needed to be like her “favorites”.

      Most teachers are excellent, but the bad apples can certainly cause severe emotional damage!

      Thank you, Melinda!

  3. Graduating from college in 1985 I looked into grad school for gifted studies. I narrowed it down to two schools, both leaders in the field. Kent State and U of Conn. U Conn. stated as an underlying philosophy that gifted individuals will, by definition, be consistently be producing works of giftedness. The only school i applied to KSU, gave me the full boat.
    In high school I repeated both 9th and 10th grades, did 11th and 12th in one year at Temple Univ. H.S. and did not start college until I was 33yrs. old.

    • Mark, oh wow, “gifted individuals will, by definition, be consistently be producing works of giftedness” is the myth that hurts so many gifted children, and your high school career shows giftedness is not always consistent and schools systems, schools and teachers have everything to do with that–yet so many take the wrong approach.

      Your comment is critically important for all to read; thank you so much for sharing!

  4. Excellent article, I agree totally. I live in a district where a gifted program is high regarded and in paper is beautiful, impressive, just what we all parents of gifted wish. People move to the area so that their children attend our schools, but for what I have seen, I feel really concerned. Once I hear a teacher talking about “there is something called…I can’t remember….async..something…” in her own words. I wanted to say, do you mean asynchronous?. I would think that the terminology would be just as natural as high pressure or cholesterol for a medical doctor. Sad.

    • Yes, absolutely. You would think asynchronous would be second-nature terminology for a gifted specialist. Yet, on Facebook today, I read a comment by a gifted teacher in reply to this very post (being shared on Facebook). And she said she teaches all children as though they are gifted because ALL children are gifted and teachers just need to find their students’ gifts!

      Thank you for telling us about your district’s gifted program! 😉

      • Really? This giftedness “specialist” treats all children as gifted? Why not just call everyone a genius and be done with it? After all, everyone has their own form of genius. Don’t they? Why not mix gold and lead and call the result “gold”? Who cares if you thus devalue gold to almost nothing by doing so? Isn’t it MUCH more important to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy about themselves, than it is to be realistic and recognize that there are real and DRAMATIC differences between gifted and non-gifted people? As long as this politically correct CRAP keeps being circulated, “professionals” like the one who commented on facebook are just making things WORSE for gifted people and extremely gifted people (geniuses).
        If that “professional’s” attitude is adapted, it feeds directly into the anti-gifted types. They get to demand an end to programs for the gifted on the grounds that “professionals” say that EVERYONE is gifted, so why do these spoiled BRATS need special programs?
        You’ve heard of “one step forward, two steps back?” This is “one step forward, two MILES back!”, I am SO FURIOUS when I hear this attitude. WHAT THE HELL was all that bullying, all that suffering for that I went through? So that the bastards that made my life so miserable can crow about how they can now “prove” I never was a genius IQ type?
        So that Joe Know-Nothing, who can barely read, can claim he’s just as much entitled to be called a genius as Stephen Hawking? Pardon me while I reach for my air-sickness bag! If that attitude becomes widespread we will have diluted the meaning and value of “genius” to just a random sound, like say, “flarb”. Flarb has no meaning, and neither would genius, in that case. ARRRRGH!
        Really? So everyone is entitled to the term GIFTED? Let’s just do the following: declare that all universities are equal, hand out “A” grades to everyone in school, so that no-one feels bad about themselves, and employers should hire every single candidate that comes through the door. Worse than that, everyone should be automatically mailed a Nobel Prize Medallion in every subject the Nobel Prize covers, because we wouldn’t want our precious little dainty porcelain statuettes get damaged finding out that they AREN’T actually geniuses, right?
        Sorry, I’m in SUPER-RANT mode here, have I damaged anyone’s ego by raising the possibility that not EVERYONE is as brilliant as Einstein, Newton or Picasso, Marie Curie, or the Bronte sisters? Sorry, just shoot me now, please. ARRRGH!

        • We all know that we can’t all be artistic, nor can we all have natural red hair, and we all can’t be musically talented, but somehow it is difficult to accept that not all of us are gifted–highly intelligent.

          ARRGH, I know 🙂

  5. Celi, your comments are dead on. I believe however, that the problem exists on multiple levels. While I agree that teachers need to be trained better in order to “get” the gifted, I think a huge part of the problem lies simply in how school is formulated. I’ve mentioned before that the school system in Western nations was founded upon a British model from the 1850’s Schools Act, the goal of which was to turn out (among boys) useful factory workers and soldiers, and among girls, to be mothers who would raise children loyal to Her Majesty the Queen, Empire, and all that. Americans, Germans, etc. provided their own variations on that theme.
    Since it was the industrial model that was present in (Western and Central) Europe and Britain (along with the Canadian colonies and the USA, Canada not forming a country till July 1st 1867) at that time, that was the model used to educate children — turning out “product” made (educated) within narrow tolerances, and ensured to meet certain definitive specifications. Not humans, so much as “things”. The sad part is, despite all the cosmetic changes that schools over the years have made, they are still mostly beholden to the industrial model.
    I took education classes. I know for a fact (and seeing how my son is educated, nothing has changed in 20 years) that the assumption is to teach to the middle, then engage in all sorts of “catch-up” techniques to bring the bottom 20% of kids closer to the middle.
    What I envision is more like a Montessori school (though not the same). Children would come in and be educated on a quarterly basis — no more long extended summer vacation, in which kids forget a huge amount of what they learn. Four quarters to a year, and each “intake” would involve some paper-and-pencil as well as in-class assessments, to see what learning style the child responds to best. (Intake would be done at the beginning of each quarter, but done only once per year per student; new evaluations would only be done if the student wasn’t prospering academically). Then children would have an EIGHT hour day (they do it in China, Japan and a Scandanavian country, but I don’t recall which one), of which three hours would be devoted for the child’s learning preference, and the other five to cover the other needed subjects. Children would be free to choose a new focus (e.g. Math & Science; Language Arts, Fine Arts (arts & crafts, drama, dance, etc.) sports; English Literature; French or Spanish Immersion, etc.) each quarter, if they so chose, but at no time would they be deficient in the other subjects.
    This would tailor the SCHOOL to the STUDENT, instead of making the student conform to the school system.
    Also, yes, classes would be integrated where possible and do-able to have low-end and high-end exceptional children in the same class. But some children would not thrive in a regular class, so schools would have to set up either grade-appropriate or, if too small, mixed-grade classes for gifted children, and perhaps the same for the low-end kids.
    it would be MANDATORY to give teachers courses in both gifted exceptionalities as well as disability-exceptionalities, Also, teachers would have to be paid in a different manner, with the emphasis being on EXCELLENCE (horrors, I know, actually expecting teachers to be paid based on performance? HEAVEN FORBID!!!!!), and teachers would have to go through evaluations to ensure that they met basic knowledge and pedagogical standards. Teachers would be given two or three go-rounds if they didn’t do well, and given the best of three; such testing would be done every 3 or 4 years, and if teachers didn’t make the cut, they would be DISMISSED.
    Furthermore, the school system should be opened up to competition, using a voucher system (Something the Obama administration opposes, AFAIK), so that children have a chance to choose schools who would COMPETE for the student tuition dollars. To accommodate private schools, the voucher could be applied towards the student’s tuition. (In Canada we have a system in which parents pay for schools via their city property taxes, and then if they want to send their kids to private school, they have to pay the full freight for private tuition. This is double-taxation and needs to stop. A voucher tuition system would resolve the problem).
    So that is my out-of-the-box (perhaps out-of-the-world, or out-of-my-mind?) proposal to deal with the problems as I see them in the education system.
    I am curious what others think about my mad, crazy scheme.

    • I agree with the Montessori-type program. Public schools need to stop being one-size-fits-all and increase the interest-based, project-based, and problem-solving-based magnet school programs. Parents and students do need more options when looking for a school that best fits the needs of each child.

      Thanks, John!!

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  8. Yes, absolutely! The teacher training needs to be comprehensive with “some sort of checks and balances” to ensure follow-through. An excellent suggestion and an essential part of this solution!

  9. Teacher training….I absolutely agree! However, this training must be done by an appropriate person to start with and then some sort of checks and balances set up to make sure what was taught is being implemented.

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