Last week, I was able to share a day with educators north of here and present a session on Gifted 101… I tailored it some to focus more on the social-emotional needs of gifted kids, but it was fairly basic information designed to help those without a background understand the gifted world a bit. Most were teachers in charter schools and were learning with a particular model’s framework in mind, and all of them wore multiple hats, to include that of gifted resource teacher or coordinator (the person doing the paperwork toward identification) for their building. Some had gifted kids of their own, and others didn’t, coming primarily because they felt a need to learn more to be of more effective service in their buildings.
I was like that. I left my second try at an undergraduate degree feeling incredibly unprepared, and so I kept going once I’d received my BA to complete a master’s degree hoping that might help. It didn’t. I still felt woefully unprepared to be a teacher. I had kids in my classes I had no idea how to help and little to no support in learning how, including one who spoke absolutely no English and my limited Spanish wasn’t appropriate for 10-year-old years at all. I spent lots of weekends and evenings in some sort of professional development during my first two years to learn more. I picked up CDs at the library to listen to at home to learn about Love and Logic and listened over and over again so I was sure I’d get it right. I bought every Kagan Cooperative Learning book I could get my hands on and took every training they offered through my district. I asked for training in how to create math units that would please my administrators because it wasn’t an area of strength. I enlisted colleagues who were better or more seasoned than I was in trying different strategies to reach the kids I was serving. I reached out to district “experts” for support as well, and they were incredibly helpful, providing units already designed that included tiered activities to reach the wide variety of learners I was sharing my day with, those requiring introductory exposure and those requiring more challenge beyond grade-level.
When it comes to what information we receive in pre-service coursework relating to gifted students and supporting them, it’s different depending on the program but it’s rarely enough.
What gifted looks like in every building, traditional public school or charter, varies widely too, which complicates the idea of not knowing what you don’t know. Some provide pull-out services so that students see a gifted teacher once or twice per week for a particular class or specific project support, and some buildings even have funding to support someone all week long, teaching small groups of identified or mostly-identified students. Other buildings use push-in support, where the classroom teacher and gifted teacher co-teach, or the gifted teacher supports the gifted cohort in the classroom with more advanced, complex, or deeper levels of content. Others have neither, relying solely on classroom teachers to use their powers of differentiation to meet the needs of the gifted students they serve, but perhaps having someone who handles paperwork and testing toward gifted identification while they teach other classes that may not be related to gifted needs altogether.
It’s interesting to have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned over the past 9 years with educators working with gifted students in such a wide range of experiences. They had such wonderful questions, comments, and thoughts to share. One of the things everyone in the room shared was a willingness to learn something new and think about how it might work in their individual buildings. I enjoy listening to teachers brainstorm and share what they’ve done and what they’ve experienced with other teachers who are either just beginning this journey or feeling overwhelmed having had this hat added to their wardrobe this year.
We may come from different models of education, but all of us are in it to support kids and give them a quality education.