Friday, January 08, 2010

Raising Gifted Kids: Decoding Teacher Talk

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As longtime readers may know, it took years for me to realize that when teachers told me my son was "doing fine," that merely meant he wasn't making trouble.

Making a ruckus, teasing, acting out, constantly getting out of his seat--none of those things are fine because they disrupt the class. Fine meant my boy did not stand out. Fine meant he played a role in maintaining status quo, it did not equate to educational growth.

A teacher's agenda for your gifted child does not necessarily match your own, especially if that means extra work for the teacher. Of course this is not a blanket statement about all teachers, and whatever your child's special needs, when a teacher does go that extra mile to help him or her, no doubt your gratitude is beyond words (also beyond a Starbucks gift card, but both are a nice touch). And we all know the pressure is on the teachers to help each student achieve a minimum level of proficiency a la No Child Left Behind, not to help each child reach his potential. (That is a blanket statement; it's our guiding national policy.)

I digress. My point is that it sometimes feels like teachers are talking in code when it comes to the education our high ability kids.

So "fine" means not a behavior problem in class, not making extra work.

"Challenges himself" can be interpreted in a similar vein. A child that challenges himself doesn't need a teacher to take that extra step or do additional work to take him to that next level. How convenient. And, of course, the idea that a gifted child is always seeking out new challenges is a stereotype, especially given that by 3rd or 4th grade and many highly gifted kids have merely tuned out, but that's fodder for another post.

What teacher talk have you decoded when advocating for your gifted child?

Read more musings of parenting gifted children.


Better Learning said...

Omg, I hear that too: "he/she is doing fine" = she's not crying and struggling with anxiety or he's not in a massive giggle fit. My kids have great teachers, I just think they're so busy that they don't have time time to tailor their approach to each kid. It makes me torn, wondering if I should have homeschooled. I try and make up for it with extra projects and activities at home, and they seem ok with that.

The Crazy Suburban Mom said...

You are so right. When my son was in school he needed some help - he got very little (with huge exertion on my part to get it and huge exertion on theirs to halt it) because he was never any trouble. No trouble at all. The kid who got the help was the kid who called the teacher a big tub of lard and I believe a giant doody face, one day. When sending him the the principal only annoyed the boy into punching another student - they decided he needed 'help'. What he got was all the educational resources the school had to offer. Many of the ones my son needed very badly but I was told he didn't qualify for....When actually he did, he just hadnt' (and would never) call his teacher a giant doody face - which in my opinion she turned out to be.

Hardly seems fair does it?


Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

You just reminded me of a bit of double-speak from my own childhood. I was in the gifted program at my catholic grade school. That meant that once or twice a week I would leave school and catch a bus to go to a nearby "learning center" with the kids from all the other area catholic schools. This included gifted, special-ed, speech therapy (which I also took for a couple of years) and any other programs they couldn't afford to have at each school.

I had a nun for a teacher who didn't like that I left her class once a week, so she would frequently refuse to acknowledge my raised hand, trying to make me miss the bus. One day I spoke up and said I needed to leave, and she explained in great detail -- in front of the whole class -- that she didn't like how I thought I was special. That I wasn't anything special, and just because I was allowed to go the special classes didn't mean I was allowed to speak without being called on.

My mother had a meeting with the principal that week, and from then on I just got up and left when it was time for me to go.

Now aside from all the obvious wrong-ness in that story, here's something I didn't realize until much later. When kids are mentally retarded, no, wait ... developmentally disabled, no, wait ... developmentally challenged? No, wait ... Slow? Differently abled? Whatever the current term is, people frequently call them "special". Maybe even "special needs". It's a euphemism in the worst possible sense, that everyone knows you're trying to paint a happy face on bad news.

So what happens when your kids are special in a good way? Then, you're not allowed to say they're special. Because then you're saying they're better than other kids. And that's not allowed.

RL Julia said...

Fine is a terrible word. It means that the teacher doesn't think they need to address my kids needs - or maybe isn't really even aware of them - and/or can use my kid to peer-tutor classmates.

I find that the older my kids get, the harder is seems for their teachers to individualize their curriculums and provide my kids with a deeper level of work on the day to day. On the other hand, those blasted project assignments (which puts the learning ball squarely on my dining room table)are a great opportunity to raise the bar and really engage my kids -but that is my doing - not the schools. Some days I feel like I am practically homeschooling.

Naomi said...

So far we haven't had to deal with this issue. I'm not sure if that's because Roo attends a Montessori school or because she's only halfway through her kindergarten year...

Anonymous said...

Edu-speak is truly another language - one which alert parents must eventually learn to de-code if they wish to advocate for their children. I have discovered layers of meaning within a term - like differentiation. With this word an educator may seek to soothe a parent who is concerned that the child is bored with the regular classroom routine. I've even seen it trotted out at PTA meetings. What it means is that the teacher has had some training in adjusting the curriculum for different types of learners. Rarely, if ever, does that mean they have had training in adjusting the curriculum to meet the needs of the high ability learner (notice I did not say "high achieving" student).

I find that if I take the next logical step and ask the teacher or intervention specialist if they have had training in differentiation to the gifted/talented student the answer is "no." In fact, it would take years of training for a teacher to learn how to differentiate to that type of learner.

Deven Black said...

These teacher code words show up in discussions about children at every ability level. I am guilty of using them as I try to rush through meeting with 70 or more parents in the three hours of parent-teacher night.

As a parent, I have learned to ask "what does that mean" or "what does that look like" every time I hear those vague terms that could hold so many meanings.

Meowmie said...

Oh yes. My parents heard that one a lot. Inside I was bored witless with the non-challenging syllabus on offer and hid novels under my desk to read.

Heather said...

"She is such a great helper!" really means - "your child finished all their work so quickly that I put them to work running errands around the school for me, organizing paperwork, or otherwise doing things I don't have time for." I teach gifted students in a pull-out program and am always amazed that even though I lead professional development sessions for our teachers, they still try to pull this when it comes to my personal children.

J Sedai said...

I'm not sure if this is the right place for this comment, but I am in need of some help. I recently put my children in public school (we had been homeschooling for 2.5 yrs) they asked to go to school, so I filled out forms, jumped through hoops (another story, trust me) and go them in classes. Now I consider my kids gifted, since at age 4 my son taught himself to read by listening to me teach his older sister to read. Once in school I told his teacher that while "emotionally" and "attention span" wise he was on the same level with his age group, he was ahead academically. The first few weeks, he got in trouble for talking out of turn because he was done with his work early, so I told him to try to keep busy and not to distract others, so now he putzes around and takes just as long as the other kids to do his work but he's bored. and the teacher says she can't/won't deviate from the curriculum because she has no "proof" of his being as "smart as I claim". Even tho he's spelling words far above his spelling list and acing every test, and even bringing books to class to read that are far above 2nd grade reading levels. What I need is a way to talk some sense into her without turning all psycho on her! How do you all do this? It was such a struggle to get him in 2nd grade, since we homeschooled (I used a non accredited program, and so without any test scores or "proof" it was a struggle). any advise would be appreciated! my other child is doing fine, is a little ahead but has a different personality and teacher so for now is doing well (thank heaven!)