Education Opinion

Getting to Square Two

By Tamara Fisher — October 21, 2009 3 min read
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Last week I presented at our annual state teacher’s convention, twice on identifying gifted Native American students and twice on “Getting Started: A Gifted Program for Your School.” With about 900 schools statewide, spread over 147,046 square miles and 56 counties, we have just over 40 FTE in Gifted Education positions in Montana. That’s not even a whole person per county, let alone enough to cover all 900 schools.

So, needless to say, I’m often confronted with “square one” questions when I present in my state. And even though I should know by now what to expect, I still can’t help but marvel at the “starting from scratch” situations people are in here.

Two gentlemen from a small town on an Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana came to one of my presentations and wanted to know where the closest place in Montana was to them that they could go to observe a gifted program in action, to get ideas and to see how it works. Although I was aware of a couple places closer to them that are also just getting started, the only “close” place I truly knew of that has (and has had for quite some time) a gifted program is a 262 mile drive for them - one way.

Easily half of the people attending my presentations last week were Special Education or Title I teachers from Class B or C (i.e. rather small, usually K-8) schools who had been “given gifted” for a class period by their administrators. Most of the other half were English teachers, Computers teachers, Librarians, etc., who had also been “given gifted” for a class period or two. All of them were at a bit of a loss as to where to even begin.

Yes, our state does have a very thorough Program Planning Guide available, in addition to other resources. Yes, Gifted Education is technically nothing new in Montana, with the founding of AGATE thirty years ago and a mandate in our state accreditation standards that schools identify and provide appropriate services for gifted students. Yes, we have come a very long way in the past three decades, thanks to a serious cadre of folks who came before those of us currently in the trenches. But geography, size, lack of funds, and misperceptions continue to plaque so many of our schools.

So in moments like this I find myself torn between the past and the present, between how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go, between excitement for the schools that are getting the ball rolling and ache for the gifted students in those schools that continue to think an AP class at the high school level is all the “appropriate services” these students will ever need. Part of me wants to mentor each and every one of these amazing, motivated, uncertain, curious teachers as they develop services for their schools’ gifted students - and part of me knows I can’t just dive in and do it all when my own job(s) await(s) me at home (not to mention the garage I’m building out back in every possible spare moment of time). And then I think of how much more exciting and how much more daunting these same struggles must have been for those who were in my shoes in Montana thirty years ago... I am so grateful to them and I marvel at what they accomplished with essentially no road map. Thank you, Pioneers.

Before she left, one of the ladies who came to my first presentation last week said, “I have hope now that I can do this - and that it might actually be fun, too. Before, I was overwhelmed by all of the unknown and uncertainty. I was worried and nervous and intimidated. But now that I have some idea of how to begin and where to go to access resources, I think I might even be looking forward to this new, open-ended aspect of my job!”

Welcome aboard to all of you newbies out there! :o)

The opinions expressed in Unwrapping the Gifted are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.