When I had my own classroom, I ate lunch with my kids. Initially, it was because we wanted to build relationships and norms, then it turned out that we didn’t have enough staff to cover everyone’s lunch. I had a plan period afterwards so me being with my kids for a half hour for their lunch wasn’t a big deal. When I moved into my current position, I covered lunches for teachers too, because again, we didn’t have enough staff to cover everyone’s lunch. When we did have enough staff for coverage, I still had lunches with kids–kids who asked to have lunch with me, kids who needed somewhere quiet to be, kids who just needed to be anywhere else for a little while.

Some people would have been irritated that they had to be with kids during “their” lunch, but I found it afforded me the opportunity to see kids in their “natural habitat.” I got to watch kids and listen to their conversations, finding out what they enjoyed, what they were into, what they were doing after school. I got to see friendships blossom, conflict be worked through (sometimes with help), and connections created.

It was fascinating to watch the kids grow in their understanding of one another, their empathy for one another, and their acceptance of one another. It was also a great chance for me to see areas of strength that wouldn’t be captured on a test or in class. I learned who was a gymnast, who wanted to be a doctor, who loved theater, who was in clown school, who was obsessed with Minecraft, who skied competitively, who was a budding environmentalist, conservationist, or scientist, and who was a natural leader.

Today, prior to the chaos that ensued at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., I had 45 minutes of a “Lunch Bunch” with first and second graders in a video chat. They are precious little souls, but today in particular, it was a glorious period of my day where I saw hope. It was evident who could be a leader, who was still getting to know others, who wanted to connect. Yes, they talked over one another (because six and seven year olds do that), but they were kind and polite to one another. They talked about songs, stuffed friends, their dogs, their siblings, video games, and plotted play dates from their carseats using their mother’s phones.

The part of my role that I love most is when teachers are able to see the things that I do in kids…and things that I miss because I don’t get to be with kids in the same way anymore. When they notice that the reluctant reader is a wonderful artist. When they see how one who fails miserably to learn multiplication facts can bring people together and plan a performance or a rally or a party. When they see the emotional intensity and sense of justice in one who is quiet in class but writes with passion. When they recognize the real connections a child makes with characters in a book and feel all the feels so very deeply. When they can see the advanced thinking and problem solving skills at work when a child is creating a project that requires spatial vision despite their inability to write a report to explain what they’ve created and why it was important during the Crusades. When teachers can make the effort to give choice, accommodation, options, and the opportunity to do things a bit differently to make things a bit more equitable and to see what a kid can do without constraints. When they can see past the academic challenges, the meltdowns, the tantrums and work avoidance to truly see a child for the gifted human being they are. That’s the thing I love most.

Gifted kids aren’t always the easy kids. They’re not kids who fit neatly together like tinker toys. They’re puzzles with millions of pieces and several pieces under the cat, the couch, and the pillow, hidden until someone takes the time to move things around to locate them. For some of these puzzles, the pieces are hidden so well that it takes a special sort of teacher to find them. They are why I do what I do, and why I choose to be where I am. They are what is behind my “Why.”

Don’t get so wrapped up in being a teacher, a parent, an administrator that you forget to watch kids being kids. You might miss a glimpse of who they really are.

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