Rather than begin my blog here at Teacher with the necessaries of who I am and what I’m all about (there’s plenty of time for that later), I’d like instead to kick it off with a hopefully-thought-provoking analogy. Given that the anticipation of a new school year is energizing the coming weeks, my aim with this post is simply to generate some timely thought, reflection, discussion, and questions.
Teachers are among the most amazing people I know, and as responses to Jessica’s recent “Why do teachers stay” post showed, we all teach for some rather inspiring, optimistic, and altruistic reasons. Teachers are talented, curious, hard working, and very caring. Because of that, I know you are up to the challenge I offer today.
Take a moment and ponder which of your current or former students come to mind as you read the next few paragraphs:
In March of each year, I marvel at my lawn. Unlike most other yards, it remains relatively green throughout the winter (when it is not snow-covered). When spring arrives, and without any prompting from me, it rapidly grows into a lush carpet. I don’t water it. I don’t weed it. I barely manage to mow it (we all know how hectic spring is for teachers!) Yet even lacking my help, my yard is amazingly gorgeous and healthy in springtime. As others struggle to green up their lawns in spring, mine (seemingly) needs no attention.
My yard is gifted. It’s the soil… My neighborhood used to be a dairy farm and my particular lot was a holding pen. The soil beneath my yard is pretty much well-aged manure. No wonder I don’t even have to try and yet still end up with a gorgeous lawn when the snow melts!
I take it for granted, though. As the summer heat comes and I jaunt off around the country to various conferences or to visit relatives, my yard still doesn’t get watered. It still doesn’t get weeded. It still barely gets mowed. And despite the fact that its soil is second-generation manure, the neglect now clearly shows. My lawn isn’t anywhere near what it could be. It DOES need attention; it does need the nurturing I often neglect to give it because I am otherwise occupied or because I think it will be okay without my help.
It is inevitable that we teachers, at one point or another, will have students in our classrooms who somehow ended up with great soil. Academically and intellectually, they often seem to blossom all on their own. They are “where they need to be” (or, more often than not, are well beyond) according to state standards for children their age. With – let’s admit it – sometimes very little effort on the teacher’s part, they learn everything they’re supposed to learn that year, or they already knew it before the year began. They are easily overlooked because it’s a safe bet that they will test as “Proficient,” while so many others are in the danger zone.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t put forth every effort to help our struggling students. Of course we should! Part of the beauty of America is that we believe in the possibilities within everyone.
And I’m not saying that there are no teachers out there who do their best by the gifted students in their classrooms. There are many, many amazing teachers who do everything they can to challenge the highly capable kids in their charge. And there are many others who want to do what’s right by them, but are at a loss as to where to begin, or are overwhelmed by all of the need in their classrooms and the requirements of their jobs.
But, to generate thought and discussion, I ask: Generally speaking, do we (as a nation, as a profession) put forth every effort to stretch the students who are already “there”? Do we take for granted the fact that some students, without much assistance from us, will be (supposedly) “just fine” academically on their own? Are they really “just fine” or “where they need to be” if we haven’t truly challenged them to stretch and grow academically and intellectually? Do they not deserve to be s t r e t c h e d also? Do they not deserve to learn and grow academically as much as possible, too? Are they really reaching their potential if we haven’t even tried to find how far their potential reaches?
Perhaps I can predict what some of you are wondering: “But where am I going to find the time to challenge those kids when I’m already swamped getting everyone else up to speed?” “But if I move that child ahead in the curriculum, then what will his teacher next year do with him?” “Isn’t it elitist to target only certain students for special learning opportunities?” “If I let her do something ‘special,’ then won’t I have to let all of the other kids do it, too?” “If they are already learning [or already know] what they’re ‘supposed’ to be learning, then why do I have to worry about them?”
This is just one post, and the topics of gifted students and gifted education are too big to cover all at once. We shall get to those concerns, those questions, those issues, too. For now, I only hope to prompt some thinking about the students with great soil, the ones whose lawns are green in winter, the ones whom we believe to be “already where they need to be.” What thoughts, questions, worries, ideas, epiphanies, and concerns do you have in regards to them?
Thank you for joining me and I look forward to interacting with everyone over the course of this year!
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.