Sometimes we need to consider extenuating circumstances in the child’s life, such as poverty, lack of opportunities, twice-exceptionalities (2E), limited parental understanding of the system, and just being a “late-bloomer” like me. Sometimes it’s about changing the mindsets of teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and students.
How do we get to certain points in our lives, based on all the varied experiences we’ve had? During my adolescent years, I truly thought I would be a famous movie or stage actor—playing roles that would take me all over the world and meeting all kinds of remarkable people. Well, that didn’t happen! However, I do travel the world and get to meet a lot of remarkable people.
Recently, I participated in a panel discussion during the National Association for Gifted Children’s annual convention. The session was entitled “Gifted Boys to Gifted Men: Analyzing the Lived Experiences of Gifted Boys.” I was apprehensive about speaking on this panel, as I had never considered myself to be “gifted.” This was a very odd response since I have been, for the last thirty years, a teacher, administrator, coach/consultant, and author in the field of gifted education. Why was it so difficult for me to admit to my giftedness and talent? Was it because there is so much stigma that goes with the label of gifted, or was it that I didn’t think I was “smart” enough to be considered gifted?
To help answer these questions, let me take you back to my earlier life. I was the middle child in a family with five children (four boys and one girl). My older brothers were both academically and athletically inclined. I was young for my grade (I started first grade at the age of five—there was no kindergarten), and I was small (“fine boned,” as my mom would say) for my years. With limited interest in sports and feeling over-challenged in the academic realm, I put my energies into building up friendships by entertaining and being the class clown—it was a great way to avoid doing schoolwork.
By the time I was in fifth grade, my immaturity (both physical and academic) showed in my academic records. After much conversation and consideration, my parents held me back to repeat fifth grade. This didn’t really lower my self-esteem, because it had already been low due to the many years of struggle in earlier grades. I had already fixed my mindset that I wasn’t very smart and that being smart was something I would never attain. Being smart was something that you “had” and not something that was “developed.”
Throughout junior high and high school, I continued the entertainer role, but this time in the context of classes such as band, choir, and the performing arts. I did well in high school and graduated with honors—all because of my grades in music and theater. My brothers went on to college. I did, too, with great apprehension—what was I going to do, because I wasn’t smart? Theater. I decided to get a degree in theater! But as my dad said, what were you going to do with a theater degree?
Post college, I worked in retail and waited tables to make a living. I was good at both of those fields, as it was all an act of theater! However, there was something in me that was seeking more. A friend of mine made an offhand comment about me making a good teacher. Well, that made sense—as teaching, itself, was also theater. I returned to college to get a postbaccalaureate degree in education.
Immediately upon graduation, I landed a job teaching gifted middle school children in a magnet school for academically gifted and talented students. This scared me because, remember, I wasn’t that smart. I learned quickly that teaching gifted students was not about being smarter than them, it was about piquing and developing their interests and diving deeper into learning beyond a textbook. After ten years of teaching in this school at the middle and primary levels, I received my Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in gifted and talented. One of my professors, Dr. Karen Rogers, saw a spark and encouraged me to go further with my education. Five years later, I received my doctorate in Educational Leadership with an emphasis on gifted programming.
Upon receiving my advanced degrees, I worked as a Curriculum Specialist for the gifted and talented school, writing curricula and providing professional development to people who worked with gifted learners. Eventually, I moved to another district to take on the challenge of being the Director of Gifted and Talented Programs and Services. Along with my brilliant staff, we opened a school-within-a-school for highly-to-profoundly gifted students (the first of its kind in the state). The school was immediately successful and became well respected. I learned more from the students than I think they learned from us.
After fifteen years as the program director, I resigned from my position in order to write and consult/coach on gifted and talented students and programs. During my time as a consultant, I’ve met many wonderful teachers and gifted/talented children. Each day, I learn more about what it’s like to be a gifted/talented student.
What I’ve Learned
I’ve come to realize, based on my personal experience, some children may not show their gifts or talents right away. Sometimes it takes exposure to curricula and content beyond the four core areas of math, science, social studies, and English/Language Arts, such as the performing arts and music. Sometimes we need to consider extenuating circumstances in the child’s life, such as poverty, lack of opportunities, twice-exceptionalities (2E), limited parental understanding of the system, and just being a “late-bloomer” like me. Sometimes it’s about changing the mindsets of teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and students. Most often it will take a caring adult to recognize that spark, as Dr. Rogers did in me.
When offered advanced courses in high school, I didn’t take the risk—knowing I would not have been successful. There are times when gifted students may not be the most successful in advanced course or classes. Like me, these kids need time to mature, grow, develop greater self-esteem/efficacy, and build confidence in themselves. Not every kid who is labeled gifted is right for the “gifted” program. Each child is an individual with individual needs.
Oh, by the way…I’m proud to say I am smart in my own way, talented in many things, and yes, even gifted.