Education Opinion

Walking a Tightrope

By Tamara Fisher — February 03, 2012 4 min read
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Being a teacher of the gifted (plus I’m program coordinator... In a small town we wear all the hats...) comes with a host of scenarios where I find myself walking that fine line, or feeling like the rope in a tug-of-war. It’s a massive balancing act of accommodating (competing?) interests, advocacy efforts vs. status quo, and being a teacher AND a program director (but sometimes being viewed by my colleagues as only a teacher - and therefore dealing with misunderstandings about the rest of what I do).

We all face challenges and walk a fine line in parts of our lives, so I’m not out of the ordinary in that respect. But I do often encounter situations and individuals who don’t see what I deal with. This post today isn’t a complaint about the tightrope I walk (I love my job, warts and all), but rather a glimpse for you into the aspects of this job that are rarely talked about, often overlooked, and frequently misunderstood. It’s easy to think that teaching the gifted kids is all rosy and happiness. In a regular classroom, many (but by no means all) of these kiddos are (often, but by no means always) eager, engaging, and progressing (particularly if/when they are challenged). Teachers dream of having a classroom full of learners like that, and since I (theoretically) do, the assumption can be that I don’t have to “deal with” any of that other “stuff.” But it’s what you may not see about my job that brings the stressors, the angst, the sleepless nights, the ulcers, the tears, the fears, and the frustrations. It is this balancing act that (sometimes delights and yet also) wears me out daily...

How do I advocate for my students without offending and alienating my colleagues?

How do I teach my students about what it means to be gifted without also unintentionally “giving them the big head”?

How do I stay ahead of dozens of kids who are ahead of me?

How do I think outside the box to get their needs met within the box that is our current reality of School?

How do I educate administrators about giftedness and a gifted program when they never step foot in my classroom? (despite being invited!)

How do I diplomatically let the parent of an above-average-but-not-gifted student know that his child doesn’t need the services I offer?

How do I convince a teacher that the student driving her up a wall every day may just be the brightest kid in the class?

How do I become a fully-recognized and fully-participating member of the staff at four different schools when I’m only at each part-time?

How do I remain informed, engaged, and excited about what’s happening nationally in Gifted Education while still working within my local realities?

How do I continue to dream big about education, even after I come crashing down to earth?

How do I communicate that what I do with these learners is not about them being “better,” it’s simply about them being far outside the norm - and having unique needs because of that?

How do I tell a respected, award-winning teacher that it’s not okay to daily use the gifted student in his class as a teacher’s assistant?

How do I counteract the misperceptions about what I do without coming across as a know-it-all?

How do I help my students to navigate the fine lines that they walk, too, because of being gifted?

How do I help the parents of my students find that balance between letting their children “run” and not pushing them?

How do I do best at finding students who need gifted services when there’s no perfect way to find them?

How do I adequately give my time to my students (whose needs range from challenge to advocacy to acceleration to so much more), their parents (who - outside of each other - have no one else they can talk to about the struggles and challenges they face parenting gifted kids... because no one else “gets it”), and my teacher colleagues (who - like most teachers - were ill-prepared for stretching the most advanced learners in their classrooms, but know they want to do right by them and have only me as a local resource to help them fill the void...)?

How do I weigh tough decisions, such as whether or not to skip David two grades, when to speak up in meetings and when to keep my mouth shut, and whether to risk alienating my colleagues for the sake of my students (or does doing so in turn pose any future risk to current or future students), ...?

How do I develop and maintain positive working relationships with those who don’t understand or agree with what I do, but who still play a role in the education of my students?

How do I help others come to understand (the apparent paradox) that a gifted program is about more than academics?

How do I, indeed! For sixteen years, I’ve navigated these and other rivers, (usually) managing to not bump too wildly into either shore. I’ve made mistakes and learned lessons the hard way, I’ve had moments of brilliant strategic maneuvering, I’ve muddled along and sailed along. And while I’ve gotten bolder - as well as more tactful - over the years, none of it has gotten any easier. And I no longer expect it to. :o)

Which fine lines do you walk for the gifted youth in your life?

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.