When I began teaching twelve years ago, there were a few in my first class who just didn’t quite fit in with the rest. Most students were typical learners, several working well below grade level. But a few…a few stood tall above the others.
- A, the girl who was reading Jane Austen at 10 who chose to sit apart from everyone else and had such sad eyes…the eyes of an old soul who knew this was not her tribe but knew too that it existed…there were others like her, she just had to wait to find them.
- C and his best friend (his name escapes me but his sweet little face and big brown eyes are so fresh in my mind) who only spoke Wookie for the first two weeks of school. And I let them, inferring from their grunts and guttural sounds what it was they wanted.
- W, who was shorter than everyone else and knew he was better at math than me and made a point of commenting on it every chance he got…and he got a lot of chances. Some on purpose, and some because fifth-grade math was an area of growth for me…it’d been a minute, you know?
- G, who was kind, sweet, and an incredible artist whose smile lit up a room. I still have a poster she made for me from a book we’d discussed in class hanging in my office.
- F, who just wanted to learn. She wanted to get knee deep in science and math and had dreams of being a scientist or engineer. These were not dreams shared by others in her world, but she loved that her parents supported her dreams.
Each of them was a bit quirky, and none quite fit in with the rest of the group. They stood tall above the others, not because they were smarter, but because they were inherently different.
Our school had family conferences this week and while we didn’t have a lot of new faces, there were enough to notice. I sat in on a few conferences and introduced myself to young ones and older ones who were new to our school who happened to be in the hallway on their way in or out.
The anxiety of their parents was palpable. I felt it surrounding them as we shook hands and our eyes met. Their eyes took in everything–the sketches on the wall outside my office, the contents and arrangements of open classrooms, the bits and bobs in the hallway waiting patiently for a free moment to be transported outside to the recycling or trash bin. They leaned in and listened intently when teachers spoke, and some of their voices trembled when they spoke about what teachers needed to know about their kids. For some, there was trauma around what their kids had already experienced in their short time in school…and deeply buried trauma of their own experiences in school.
The kids were a bit different. Some were outwardly peeved that their summer was over and made no bones about how irritated they were. Others were nervous, sharing glances with their parents that indicated they were unsure how to answer the questions being posed to them: What would you like us to know about you? What do you enjoy? What do you not enjoy? What are your goals? Is there anyone you know already you’d like to share a homeroom with if it works out? Some had firm handshakes already and looked me right in the eye when introducing themselves. Others were a bit reserved, clearly worried about the other kids and whether or not they’d fit in…at all or enough. Would this finally be home?
Would this finally be home? When parents go hunting for a new school, it’s almost always because the last one didn’t meet a need of some sort. Sometimes it’s something as simple as it’s too far from home or work or both and scheduling drop off and pick up is complicated. For others, it’s a web of experiences that all point to the exit sign. It’s so critical that gifted kids (and their families) have a home in their school community. Somewhere they feel safe, honored, and SEEN.
A, C and his buddy, W, G, and F…I like to think that for all my missteps as a first-year teacher (and there was a long list of them), I at least provided them a home…a place where they felt safe expressing their ideas, taking risks in their work, experimenting with different ways to learn and think.
My first batch of tall poppies…little did I know that the experience of sharing a classroom with them would launch me to where I am now, getting to advocate on their behalf, lending an ear, and sometimes sharing what I’ve learned with others.
While I was at school today, one of my gaggle of guys ran up to hug me hello…and I remember quite clearly the day, shortly after he’d arrived as a new student with us in my classroom, when he said, “This feels like home.”
Every kid should get to say that about their school community. Every parent should get to feel that way too.