Education Opinion

The Echo in the Pipeline

By Tamara Fisher — January 13, 2009 4 min read
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In a few days, one of my former GT students will begin her student teaching. She came to school with me one day last week to shadow me, to have an opportunity to observe and discuss some of what I do with my gifted students. Yes, she participated in the program when she was a kid, but she came this time with a different perspective – that of a soon-to-be teacher.

A few years ago, when Narysa was just beginning her college education, I encouraged her to come to a four-day AGATE (gifted education) conference that was taking place in the town where she was about to go to college. She was so enthusiastic about the opportunity! But I think it shocked her a bit back then when I told her that she would probably learn more in the four days of the conference about gifted students and how to reach them than she would in the next four years of her college education. My perspective in making that prediction (which proved true) was not so much one of pessimism, rather realism. I knew even then that our nation’s higher education institutions have a bleak track record of educating future teachers about this portion of their future student populations. As I’ve mentioned here previously, only 81 colleges or universities in America (out of thousands) offer coursework in Gifted Education.

Yes, gifted students are, in theory, covered in the “Exceptional Needs” type classes that are required (to the best of my knowledge) for all future teachers. But Narysa’s experience is likely quite typical of the reality: the amount of time spent in these and other classes covering gifted students is as minimal as one can get without actually avoiding it altogether. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t great professors out there who DO make a point of covering this sub-population in depth and doing justice to preparing the future teachers in their classes for knowing how to understand and make accommodations for gifted students. But they are probably more the exception than the rule.

As she shadowed me throughout the day, Narysa talked about what it was like for her to bring up gifted students in her college education courses – when no one else, not even a professor, was making them a part of the broader conversation about teaching and education. She said, “They look at me like I’m from another planet. They automatically assume that I don’t care about all the other kids, which is totally NOT true. I ask a simple yet *important* question – like what to do for the gifted kids – and they practically roll their eyes at me.”

It just breaks your heart, doesn’t it?

And yet, after class, a student or two would seek her out and say, “Hey, I want to learn more about what you were talking about in class – the gifted students. Where can I learn more about them and what to do for them?”

Are they posing that question to the professors? No. She has become the go-to resident-expert on gifted students – based on 1) her participation in a four-day GT conference, 2) her personal experience in a GT program, and 3) the fact that she puts forth the effort in class to raise questions or to figure out how what is being taught can be applied to or adapted for gifted students.

She also talked about what it was like to be observing in area classrooms and see kids who were leaps ahead of the other kids, kids who quite possibly were gifted, all but banging their heads against the wall they were so bored going over material that was much too easy for them. “I just know there are things that can be done differently for those kids! I really feel for them. But, as ‘just’ a college student who is ‘just’ observing, how do I bring it up to a teacher who’s been teaching longer than I’ve been alive?”

How, indeed…

Despite her struggles and frustrations in the process of speaking up, it warms my heart to know that this future teacher is well on her way to being the kind of teacher who will reach and stretch all of the students in her classroom, including the often-overlooked gifted ones. And essentially it only took a four-day conference at the beginning of her college education to set her on that path. It created a starting line for her, and she has run with it.

With that in mind - Do you know a future teacher? Is there a student teacher in your school this semester, or a new teacher in your school this year? Think about what you could do to reach out to that person, to help educate him or her about gifted students, to begin to fill what is likely a hole in his or her knowledge base. Is there a conference or workshop you could sponsor his or her way to? Do you have a book on the shelf you could loan out? Do you have some great strategies to share that he or she could even witness in action in your classroom?

Reach out. Be a mentor who can help show them that this path even exists. You don’t have to be an “expert” to make a difference. If you read this blog, then I know it’s a topic you’re interested in and know at least a little bit about. Don’t worry that your “little bit” of knowledge isn’t enough – because it’s more than likely still more than they’ve yet to be exposed to. You have knowledge and experience that they (and their future gifted students) can gain from. So reach out to that new or soon-to-be teacher. Narysa’s voice needn’t echo in the pipeline.

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.