I became a talent scout as I started looking for intensities, creativity, ingenuity, and quirkiness in my students and the adults around me. Listening to a comment from a student that was particularly insightful or witty, I dug deeper. If I heard a teacher complain about someone not ever turning in homework, but acing tests, I flew into the office to dig into student files for test scores and other clues pointing to selective consumerism.
Before: From one to forty-one years of age, I was a phony. I was a faker. I was a hacker.
As a gifted educator, my heart still carried the whisper of “imposter” and “phony” for years. Having never been in any ‘gifted’ programs or advanced courses during kindergarten through twelfth grade, and having struggled in school at various times, I certainly did not self-identify as gifted. Landing my gifted-education teaching position after having looked up “key phrases and terms” in gifted education for the interview was proof of my counterfeit status. I hacked it, like many situations in my life, especially in education.
As an intermediate elementary school teacher, I had been thriving in schools and was adept at managing successfully and developing techniques for doing things: hacking.
For instance, I had figured out how to hack a college education. By 2006, I had earned three college degrees. Two were at the graduate level: a master’s degree in elementary education and my administrative K-12 MN License Certificate Program. I earned 4.0 GPAs in both. I learned and learned and learned. However, I had hacked my degrees.
Keep in mind, I wasn’t aware that I was doing anything unusual. It was just one of the techniques I’d developed to help me succeed. Why did I need to hack it? I wasn’t a great reader. I had a difficult time focusing on and understanding textbooks and unfamiliar subject matter.
How did I hack it? Like this, Grasshopper—observe and learn. My reading assignment technique was to read the chapter summary and any comprehension questions at the end of the chapter first. Then read the first three or four paragraphs of each section. Reread the summary, then try and answer the questions. The most critical part of the hack was to not be absent when said chapter is discussed in class, ever. Not ever. I was really good at discussing. People believed I was smart when they heard me participating in group discussions. The slur, “Hacker” is what I heard in my head.
After completing my administrative K-12 MN Licensure program, I considered earning a doctorate. Loving learning and, truth be told, yearning for validation in the gifted education community and larger educational field at large, I could not let this idea go. Keep in mind, I would be Dr. Happe (read ‘happy’), and who wouldn’t love that?
For the first time, however, I decided against pursuing a goal, out of the fear that I wouldn’t be able to sufficiently “fake” it. My fear came from knowing that I couldn’t read huge amounts of text quickly and digest it all in a manner that would be required for a doctoral degree. Never before had I capitulated because I believed I couldn’t do it.
Thinking about my personal
distractibility, and the recent discovery and love of nonfiction audiobooks, I
reasoned that if I could be tested and found to have ADHD, perhaps I could
receive textbooks in audio format (a student services accommodation if you have
proper documentation). In that case, I could overcome my individual obstacles
and earn my doctorate. I could ‘hack’ a doctoral degree.
The resulting IQ test was excruciatingly intense. Although my intention was to allow my distractibility to be seen and recognized, I became intensely afraid of doing poorly and thereby providing evidence to prove that I was, indeed, an imposter.
Findings? That IQ test unlocked me. What I discovered changed everything:
- Yes, I showed signs of having ADHD, and it was recommended I consider medication when working on important tasks. Did I mention the four consecutive hours of testing without breaks?
- My overall score put me in the gifted IQ score range, solidly.
- Based on several subtests, it was determined that I most likely had dyslexia.
At forty-two years old, I had finally been unlocked. The quirkiness of my learning life was explained. The following back and forth ensued with the psychologist who had called to share the results with me:
“Is that why I can’t do origami?” I demanded. Why I thought of this, I have no idea.
“Yes, that would be governed by the same area of the brain that is impacted by dyslexia.”
“Yes, but I can tell if a picture is 1/16th of an inch off dead center…and I can rearrange a room in my mind, and it always works.”
“Different part of the brain. Those would also be part of the strengths that come with Dyslexia.”
My next question screamed of Imposter’s Syndrome. Thinking about how it just came out of my mouth, without thought, is heartbreaking to me now. “So, wanting access to audiobooks doesn’t make me lazy?” Gently and with compassion, I was told that I’d been working three times harder than everyone else to get the same meaning out of text. I was definitely not lazy. Being gifted had saved me from falling victim to this disability, but it also masked its existence and therefore kept me from getting help for it. A double-edged sword. A blessed curse.
I wasn’t a hack or a fraud. I was creative, resourceful, and smart. I was a hard worker. Who the hell saw that coming? Not me.
After: From forty-two to forty-seven years of age, I saw strengths. I saw potential. I saw puzzles.
Unlocking the puzzle of my own learning, with its strengths and its challenges, transformed my definition of what being smart, gifted, and talented meant in my personal life and certainly in my career. I had to reexamine everything I knew about learning and about teaching. Grappling with the question of, “What does intelligence mean, look like, smell, sound, and feel like?” I became a talent scout as I started looking for intensities, creativity, ingenuity, and quirkiness in my students and the adults around me. Listening to a comment from a student that was particularly insightful or witty, I dug deeper. If I heard a teacher complain about someone not ever turning in homework, but acing tests, I flew into the office to dig into student files for test scores and other clues pointing to selective consumerism. Looking through this new lens, I saw bright spots of talent, light, and potential everywhere.
Now: From forty-seven years of age to the present, I am a bright spotter. I am a light shiner. I am an excellence detector.
Today, I am intense, curious, insatiable, and well-read. My audible library has 483 books and is constantly growing. I often start sentences with, “There is a great book….” Dyslexia be damned. Being “unlocked” by an IQ test was a pivotal moment in my life. Upon reflection, it was an event that became a clarion call for me. My call to action is to look for gifts and giftedness everywhere I go. When we look to create connections with one another and inside ourselves for solutions, we will always be better off.
Years ago, the words of Marianne Williamson’s poem, “Our Deepest Fear,” resonated with me and now seems appropriate for closing this column. Embrace your light and your own hacking, as they are the secret to a life of authentic, joyful stewardship of gifts.
Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God (the universe).
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God (the universe) that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Dyslexic Advantage. https://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/.
Eide, Brock, and Fernette Eide. The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. A Plume Book, 2012.
Sylvia Rimm. “Gifted Children, Parenting, Creativity Tests, and Underachievement Reversed: Dr. Sylvia Rimm.” Sylvia Rimm. http://www.sylviarimm.com/.
VanTassel-Baska, Joyce. Social-Emotional Curriculum with Gifted and Talented Students. Prufrock Press, 2009.
Williamson, Marianne. Return to Love. 1992.