School has been over for about a week, for kids anyway, and I’ve been working on several projects all at once, a little at a time.

One project is a presentation that I’m giving with a friend at Comic-Con.  Yes, Comic-Con…where those who don’t cosplay are in the minority, but there’s no judgment either way.  I went last year both to Educator Day and then again the next with my love and a couple friends, and I kept thinking to myself, “You know, you could totally present a session for teachers…”  And so, when the call for proposals went out, I submitted one and asked a colleague to present with me.

It always intrigues me that at general educator conferences, no matter where they are or for what purpose, they very rarely include any sessions that address the needs of gifted students.  There’s always several that address remedial needs, support, and intervention.  There’s always a whole bunch for typical learners, sharing myriad ways to skim the surface and barely touch the standards.  But there’s not often anything about what gifted kids need…not even a mention as a sidenote in a session.  The general education community simply doesn’t recognize that gifted kids have needs that need to be met.

As we’ve been working to put together this presentation, taking our expertise with working in the classroom with gifted kids and meshing it with our own geek passions and lessons and random conversations we’ve had with kids about them in the context of academic learning, lots of memories surfaced.

The two boys who refused to speak anything but Wookie to me for two weeks during my second year of teaching.  I saw them.  I honored it.  (And I got an earful for not disciplining them over it.)  But when they were ready, they did anything I asked because they knew I’d understood who they were.  And that was far more valuable to me than simple compliance.  We had a connection.

The boy who, upon arriving to school the Monday after seeing the most recent Star Wars movie, says to me (after weeks of “Don’t any of you DARE spoil the movie for me!”), “YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER DIED!”  And I teared up in the doorway…while the rest of the class watched me try not very successfully to hold it together.

Life skill: No spoilers, no matter how excited you are to share something.

489th commandment: Thou shalt not make your teacher cry at 7:55 a.m. on a Monday because the man she was going to marry when she was 8 died in a movie when she was 41.

The gaggle of kids who spent two years with me in language arts writing about things like Minecraft, Pokemon, Endermen, and a host of other geek-related topics…and ONLY writing about those topics.  They wrote narratives with alternate endings and revised characters, informational books and historical timelines, persuasive essays on why parents should allow them to play, and essays connecting the games, cards, and characters to real life issues, people, and events.  A piece of me hoped they’d grow out of it before the end of the year, and start writing about things that mattered…and then I remembered: when you’re little…those ARE the things that matter.  They don’t have to write about poverty, homelessness, or suicide yet.  There’s a purpose in these explorations…and they’re important.

The girls who asked on more than one occasion if it was ok to cry when reading a story or a non-fiction piece…  Of course, it’s ok…we connect to characters and people…wonderful authors and writers paint pictures of people with whom we can.  That’s part of the beauty of being human.  I handed them tissues and sat with them a while.

As my friend and I ran through what we would say for each slide, who would talk about what part, I caught myself getting teary-eyed remembering each one of the kids who inspired a phrase or story, or how I felt, a gifted kid myself, watching an episode of a sci-fi show or reading a fantasy book, tearing up when something awful happened to a character I loved or I had a moment of deep understanding.  “Ohhh…now I get what he meant.”

I’ve been on the verge of tears most of the day.  When my phone went off early this morning with an alert that Anthony Bourdain had died, probably by suicide, I really hoped it was one of those hoaxes that would pop up with “JUST KIDDING!” later on, news outlets scrambling to account for their screw up.  As the alerts kept coming, my sadness grew.

We’ve lost one more of our tribe.

I mentioned it to someone in passing, and they couldn’t wrap their head around why I’d be upset about a TV personality, a brash and sarcastic food show guy, committing suicide. They thought I was being silly.  It wasn’t as though I knew him.  We weren’t friends and I’ve only ever seen him on TV.  They couldn’t understand.  He was one of us.

It’s like the girls and the stories…  We connect to certain people, real or fictional.  I’ve said for as long as I can remember that I want to eat and drink my way through a multitude of countries–I don’t want to “see the sights.” I want to experience the life in another country.  I started watching Rick Steves on PBS share tiny, hole-in-the-wall places to stay and eat on PBS, and when Anthony Bourdain began his adventures, I followed.  I followed because he showed the reality of the people he was visiting, the human side of them. People’s grandmothers cooked for him, opening their homes and families to him and his cameras. He got them to share about life where they were, how politics around the world impacted them, how history had changed their worlds, and what challenges they face every day.  He talked with them about the history of the food they shared, the preparation of a dish, and the cultural significance of it.  He asked them about their families, their everyday lives, their hopes for the future.  A typical food show presenter wouldn’t go to all that trouble.  He was intentional about what he chose to share and how he chose to share it…he had a purpose in every moment on camera.

Our tribe lost a member.

So when my friend and I present next week in front of an audience of hopefully more than three Daleks, two Chewbaccas, and a member of Hufflepuff,  the pieces of our gifted world that we share will have a greater significance.

Linda Silverman said something along the lines of “Gifted is who we are, not what we do.”  And as educators, honoring the “who we are” part when kids are passionate about something, no matter how geeky, silly, or insignificant we might think it is, matters.  There’s often more to it than we know…and the kids need us to SEE them.

Like a Tardis, they’re bigger on the inside.




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