Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Teachers are Frazzled too!

Our education system is a complete mess for so very many reasons. I would imagine, from a teacher's point of view, it must be difficult at times to keep morale up. It is easy for parents to criticise, but we have no idea what it is like to face a room of thirty kids of hugely varying abilities and be under pressure to get them all safely through the state exams. Add a sprinkling of learning difficulties of all descriptions - maybe not even diagnosed - and dwindling back-up from the resource department. In secondary school at least, toss in the hormones and behaviours of adolescence and you have a potent mixture!

When it comes to special needs, how much training do teachers get before they are thrown in to sink or swim in the "inclusive" classroom? For giftedness at least, I think the answer is “none”. Rather than think the worst of them, we need to try and empathise and support teachers. As advocates for gifted children, our job is to help teachers to help this group. A very good first step which would be of benefit to us all, would be for some of the basics of giftedness to be covered in all pre-service teacher training. If we didn’t have gifted children ourselves, would we have a clue of how it might present or how to deal with it? Most of us, even with our knowledge and experience, struggle with the task ourselves at times. I believe that most teachers, if they understood what giftedness really means rather than the usual myths, would be open to working with parents.

Let’s face it, one facet of giftedness is intensity. So, at the very least, I think they should be warned that the parents of gifted students may well be very INTENSE, but they are not to be feared! They are usually just very EAGER to help, but maybe aren’t sure how. As in so many aspects of parent-school interaction, understanding, respect and openness is required on both sides. For our part, parents must remember that we don’t really know how schools operate on a day-to-day basis and what may seem obvious and reasonable to us, may in fact be  well nigh impossible to do.

Teachers, please don’t feel threatened by us. We know that our kids can be difficult to provide for in our current system. We know that you are largely unsupported in this regard. Parenting a gifted child is not easy either. Sending our children to school can be both frightening and frustrating for us and sometimes that emotion may spill into our behaviour when we interact with you. You have no idea how wonderful it feels when a teacher is receptive and supportive. Speaking from personal experience, when my own child was struggling in early secondary school, finding just one teacher who “got it” transformed the lives, not only of that child, but of the whole family. Instead of being a nervous wreck sending him to school each morning, I felt secure in the knowledge that he had someone to turn to if things began to overwhelm him. In the end, she didn’t need to do much at all. It was just knowing that she was there and that she understood that made the difference to us all. We all have teachers from our dim and distant pasts who we remember with affection and this one will certainly be one of those.

It is by talking to each other, sharing ideas and experiences, that parents and teachers of gifted children can make a difference. 


  1. >> I believe that most teachers, if they understood what giftedness really means rather than the usual myths, would be open to working with parents. <<

    Very true. We need to move away from the idea that bright kids will be fine all by themselves regardless of the school environment. I loved the last post on ZPDs - think it's a very clear way of explaining why gifted kids may be doing fine but not learning the way they need to in a mainstream school system.

  2. I think a lot of teachers understand what giftedness really means - they are highly qualified individuals lest we forget. In fact, there are many teachers that are, themselves, gifted. Of course teachers are very open to working with parents in doing the best for their children, but it important to remember that teachers have a responsibility for the other 20-29 pupils in that classroom too - all with very individual needs.

    I know that many of the teachers in my school are frustrated (or frazzled to follow the theme)that we tend to focus on the pupils with learning difficulties more than the gifted pupils. In my opinion it is a case for finding the right balance. I am sure that if a blog existed for parents of special needs pupils the balance would certainly tip to their favour. We live in a world where we always want the best for our children - sadly the system in which we work doesn't allow this to happen. It is the system that needs to change (and teachers have responsibility in making this happen) for the specific needs of all pupils to be met.

  3. From my experience of teachers (and it fairly extensive) most of them know what the word 'gifted' means, but have no understanding of it. Whenever I mention it, it gets a nod and a degree of interest but that's about it. And while some teachers have exceptional ability, I don't believe that they necessarily view themselves as such (who? Me? Aw shucks, nah!); and certainly not to the extent that it impacts on their teaching.

    Indeed, being a teacher can act as a barrier to appreciating the fact that a particular child is gifted. As teachers, we have a better chance of keeping up with gifted pupils than their parents. So their unique ability may not register with us all the while their parents are struggling. And in some schools where the cohorts are more homogenous and composed of children from education-oriented families (the Blackrocks, the Belvederes), it can be even harder to discern the highly abled child because they are all so darn good!

    And it is quite common for teachers to mis-understand Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and confuse the notion of 'a gift' with being 'gifted'. While teachers are professionals, to varying degrees, not a single one currently teaching in Ireland has had training on their PGDE in gifted children. So in most cases, giftedness never enters their awareness.

    The majority of teachers consciously want the best for their pupils but it does no one any favours to view a classroom as a large group of pupils all with individual needs plus the odd one or two that are gifted. All children have to be deserving of our attention. In reality the vast majority of teachers are unaware that there is, in each one of their classes, likely to be 2 children smarter than them, and in some cases, more knowledgeble about a topic.

    In schools, we do focus on pupils with learning difficulties, but not when they are gifted with learning difficulties (2e). In classrooms, we don't focus at all. All the research on mixed ability suggests that teachers teach to the middle. This is good for weaker students and those of average ability. But as genuine differentiation is non-existent is most schools, the gifted child is left frustrated. Where differentiation of some sort is used, it consists of helping the weak student while the others get on with the worksheet.

    Instead, if teachers simply recognised the gifted pupils in their classroom, and planned from the top down (could, should, must) then that itself would be a significant change. Sure, its a bit more work for the teacher first time around, but we all want the best for our pupils.

    The situation in state schools is even more bleak given larger class size and the difficulty with something as simple as photocopying resources.

    This blog post is welcome because I know many parents of gifted children who don't fully unerstand what teachers do and can't see beyond their own child. This is understandable. But when a problem occurs with their child in school, many often assume, in ignorance, that the school is the issue. It's nice to see a parent that 'gets' teaching.

  4. I agree it's the system that needs changing, I have come across many teachers that 'get' gifted and many parents that 'get' teaching. In fact sometimes you have a person who is both a parent and teacher of gifted children. working together in order to dispell the 'myths' about gifted children and offering strategies to help both in the classroom and at home will make a huge difference to our gifted children.