Over the past couple of years I’ve participated in a number of groups for parents of gifted/2e children. I see the same questions voiced over and over again. I want to respond, but I don’t want to appear negative and I don’t have time to write out a lengthy response each time.
This post is that response. And it is lengthy.
If you are new to my site, I’m a former elementary teacher. I taught in private, Christian, Classical Christian and charter schools. I have a gifted/2e daughter who is currently nine. We have always homeschooled because I knew based on my time as a teacher that my daughter would not thrive in a traditional classroom. She’s too creative, imaginative, busy and talkative to sit down and be quiet for eight hours a day. We have made and continue to make a lot of sacrifices to homeschool her because we truly believe it is our only choice. (I know this because I called our Blue Ribbon Elementary School in one of the top districts in our state last year just to confirm that it would never work.)
I give that background because I think some people might find this post harsh. It isn’t meant that way. It IS meant as a tough love post. I’m writing what I know from experience as a classroom teacher and what I have observed as the mother of a gifted/2e daughter.
Concerns of Parents with a Gifted/2e Child
These are the topics people include when they are looking for advice about their gifted/2e child’s classroom experience (public and private). Each post is usually some combination of several of these.
- My child is in K/1st/2nd grade.
- He reads at a 4th/5th/6th grade level.
- He is really into science/math/history/geography.
- He loves to read.
- He’s bored in the classroom.
- He gets one hour of gifted pull-out a week.
- He’s getting into trouble for talking/joking/correcting the teacher.
- The public/private school is small and they tell us they want to work with us.
- They know my child is gifted.
- They acknowledge my child has needs.
- The teacher is giving my child MORE work but not more CHALLENGING work.
- The teacher isn’t doing anything extra for my child.
- The teacher doesn’t use my suggestions for what my child needs.
- The teacher says she will do things for my child, but never follows through.
Do any of those sound familiar?
Are you ready for reality?
Are you sure?
Okay, here are the cold, hard facts. Are there schools and teachers that are exceptions to what I’m about to write? Of course. But this is the reality in the vast majority of schools, even in the “great” districts.
The Classroom is for Mass Education
The traditional classroom is set up to educate as many children as possible as efficiently as possible. It is designed for the middle of the pack academically. The classroom is not designed for gifted/2e children. The curriculum is not created for gifted/2e children. The schedule is not created for gifted/2e children. The entire premise of classroom education and schools is to educate as many children as possible as efficiently as possible. Educating intellectual outliers does not fit with a mass education model.
Standardized Tests Drive Everything
Testing drives everything. Teachers spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy on testing. They are forced to teach to the test. They spend many days giving tests (which are often developmentally inappropriate but that’s another post for another day).
Most teachers are constantly having to relearn what they need to focus on because the bureaucrats are constantly changing the testing. Testing, not learning, drives everything. If you have a gifted/2e child who loves to learn, he’s not going to be very happy in a classroom.
Teachers are Measured by Test Results
Agree with it or not, this is the reality today. Teachers are measured by standardized testing results. Your gifted/2e child doesn’t negatively impact the teacher’s test results so therefore he is not a priority. By necessity priority will be given to children who are going to drag down the overall class score.
Science, History and Geography Aren’t Important
In an elementary school environment where testing drives everything, these are the least important subjects. It is all about reading, writing and math. If your gifted/2e child is captivated by advanced science, history and geography, she will be bored out of her mind with the things they will do on the elementary level – when they have the time to do them.
Meaningful Differentiation in Classrooms Rarely Happens
Differentiation is the buzz word today and parents of gifted children latch onto it like a life preserver. The reality is that most teachers do not have time to truly differentiate for children who are performing multiple grade levels above where they “should” be.
Teachers Don’t Understand Giftedness
When you realized your child was gifted, what did you do? You probably got on the internet and started reading anything and everything you could about giftedness. You found groups online where you could interact with other parents of gifted children and learn from their experiences.
You now know more about giftedness than most teachers who graduate with an education degree.
The reality is most teachers have little to no knowledge about giftedness. Put 2e into the mix and forget about it. If you ask a relatively new teacher to differentiate for your gifted child, odds are she is going to give MORE work, not work that will challenge your child’s intellect. It will be busy work. Teachers don’t understand giftedness, many can’t identify it, and most won’t know what to do about it.
And I can guarantee you, they don’t have time to learn about it either.
So they will put you off. Partially because they don’t have enough time. Partially because they don’t know what to do. And partially because they don’t want to admit that they don’t have any idea how to effectively educate your gifted/2e child.
The School’s Default is Helping the Weakest
It is human nature to instinctively help those in need. If a teacher has multiple children in her class who are outside the normal curve, which ones will appear the most needy? The child who reads and does math two grades below grade level or the child who is two grades or more above grade level?
It is ALWAYS going to be the children who are struggling. That’s what a compassionate teacher will do, that’s what the IEPs will require, and that’s what her job depends on. (See standardized testing point above.)
The average classroom teacher is not going to view a gifted/2e child as having a legitimate educational need. Being above grade level does not indicate a need. Period.
Student Misbehavior Due to Boredom is Your Problem
What do children do when they are bored? They find a way to entertain themselves. What do bored gifted/2e children do in the classroom? They talk. They entertain their classmates. They interject from their vast knowledge base when the teacher doesn’t want to be interrupted.
If your child is bored in the classroom, it is going to be your problem. The teacher doesn’t have time for witty kids, kids who correct them with detailed clarifications about the finer points of science, etc. Parents might see this as their child trying to contribute and be engaged. Sorry. That’s not the way it is in school. Your child will be seen as a disruptive behavior problem. And that is ultimately YOUR problem to fix, not theirs.
In fact, your child’s inability to sit down and be quiet like the rest of the students will be seen as purely a behavioral problem, not an intellectual problem. The average teacher is not going to think, “Wow. This child is so bright he’s bored so he’s trying to find anything to engage himself.” Not going to happen.
And some teachers will resent the child who creates problems and disruptions, gifted or not.
Private Schools Need Money
Some parents figure out that public schools aren’t going to work so they look into private schools. Great. Except private schools need tuition money. You have money for tuition. Therefore, they will often tell you whatever you need to hear in order to get you to enroll. That’s reality. They aren’t trying to be dishonest and I think most of them have the best of intentions. But there are far too many private schools that see dollar signs instead of a gifted child with unique needs they are going to have to meet.
The Administrators Said They Would Work with Us
This is more apt to be an issue in private schools. Because private schools need money (see above), they will promise you that they will be able to meet your child’s needs.
Who made that promise? The administrator who spends no time in the classroom? Or your child’s teacher?
Administrators need to keep enrollment numbers up. Just because the administrator says that they will work with you and meet your child’s needs, it doesn’t mean the classroom teacher is on board or even equipped to meet your child’s needs. Just because the administrator says they differentiate, it doesn’t meant they are going to meet your child’s academic needs.
Your Gifted Child is Not a Top Priority
When a parent discovers her child is gifted, she immediately puts on her advocate hat. She knows that she is her child’s advocate. Her child’s educational needs become a top priority for her. She views everything through that advocate hat.
You know what? Your child is not the most important person in a teacher’s classroom. Your child may not even be in the top five or top ten.
That isn’t to say the teacher doesn’t like or enjoy your child. Your child might be one of his/her favorite students ever! But that isn’t the same thing as being a priority. You as a parent are your child’s advocate. The teacher is someone doing a job – teaching as many children as possible as efficiently as possible at one time (see above point). She/He will never ever care about your child and advocate for your child the way you will. It’s simply not possible.
Are You Depressed and Discouraged Now?
I hope not! That is not my intention.
I do hope that your eyes are opened to the reality of classroom education from a teacher’s perspective.
I know many people want to send their children to school for a variety of reasons such as:
- I want to work.
- I need to work.
- I don’t want to stay home with my kids.
- I want to support public education.
- I believe in public education.
- We want to be a part of the community.
- My child needs the social interaction.
- I want my child to have the school experience.
- I don’t want to homeschool.
- I’m a taxpayer and I have a right to expect my child to be educated according to his needs.
Those are all valid reasons.
But if you choose to send your gifted/2e child to school, you have to accept reality. You are trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
You may not homeschool, but your child’s education is still going to fall on you. The school is not changing for you and your child.
You will spend a lot of time advocating for your child. You will probably not be happy with the results much of the time.
You are going to have to supplement their education after school and in the summer.
I know to parents of gifted children this post may be upsetting, but that’s the reality. There are only so many hours in the day and the teacher has to choose who she is going to help. She simply cannot be all things to all children. She can’t. It’s not physically possible. Trust me. I know this from first-hand experience.
What Should You Do With Your Gifted Child?
I can’t tell you what to do. Only you know your situation.
My goal in writing this post is not to convince you to homeschool. I do admit that my bias is that homeschooling gifted/2e children is usually (but not always) the best choice. But I also know that is not going to happen in every case for any number of reasons.
My goal is to open the eyes of parents with gifted children to the reality faced by a teacher in the classroom. I hope it helps you see things not just from your perspective as your gifted child’s advocate, but from the perspective of a teacher who probably does not have the time, skills or energy to meet your child’s unique needs.
Whatever educational path you choose for your child, I sincerely wish you the very best!