I’ve recently found out that when I became a teacher my head was filled with a lot of assumptions about the career of teaching. First was that this path for my life would be more stable than my previous life as a youth minister. That was quickly debunked when my district began laying off teachers during my second year. The next was that teaching “gifted kids” is easier than teaching lower kids. While there are fewer traditional behavior problems, I would say that I have just as much commotion in my classroom now as I ever did before…it’s just a different kind of nonsense. I’m just now getting to the point where my latest assumption is coming to the surface. I thought everyone who teaches was in it for the kids.
Let me back up a few steps before I continue. There are a lot of people in this world who teach and have their kids interests at heart. I appreciate teachers that genuinely want what is best for their students even if it makes them feel uncomfortable and isn’t what is easy all the time. Thank you so much if you are one of these people!
This week has felt like a whirlwind to me because people have been having conversations with me that haven’t normally been had. I’m going to be piloting a new program for our school next year, finishing up a re-evaluation of our G/T program on a district level, been informed that people are excited at the professional development I’ve signed up for this summer, and have been used as an example by multiple people in the district. I’m not saying all these things to brag about the job I’m doing. I truly feel that my teaching career is in its infancy and I need to grow into a better teacher on a yearly basis and I think this is where all the situations above stem from. I feel like most of my peers in the teaching world are fairly set in their ways and would like nothing more than for the district to leave them alone so they could teach in the same tired methods they have in years past. I understand that not every training (and there are a ton of trainings) that I’m told to go to are the most useable content in the world, but must we always prejudge the content of trainer before listening to what they say? For so long we’ve seen new ideas, opinions, and research as a means to “evaluate” us as teachers instead of seeing it as valuable feedback that can transform our classrooms into something so much more than what it currently is. Meanwhile the people in our schools who crave new best practices, evaluate their progress as a teacher, and seek differing opinions of what is good and bad practices are looked at as revolutionaries. Somehow we’ve gotten to the point where pushing ourselves to be better than we were last year makes us an ‘overachiever’ or ‘pushing the envelope’.
Hopefully I never get too old to learn something new.
Monday Haley and I finished our pre-baby coursework. Our hospital offers three classes for new parents, and while they aren’t mandatory they are recommended. At first I was a bit hesitant, but after going to them all we really learned a lot and feel better about the prospects of taking home our child in six weeks or so.
- The first class we took was called “Prepared Childbirth.” Of all the classes we took, I feel like this was the most important because it at least gave me a basic understanding of what to expect when we motor off to the hospital. They went over hospital procedures, choices we needed to make, and generally got us to understand how you birth a child at their hospital. We also got to go on a tour of the pre-natal and postpartum areas of the hospital, which will come in handy.
- The next class was the “Baby Care and CPR Class” which was super-helpful as well. They told us about basic baby care and when we needed to seek medical attention. We also got a crash course in infant CPR and what to do if the baby begins to choke (which is pretty likely). We also took another tour of the hospital during this class.
- The last class was also the one I was most weary about going to, “Breastfeeding Class.” While I still maintain that I would have been fine not going to this class, the understanding of how everything needs to happen as well as how often it should be happening was very helpful. They offered another tour, but we declined.
Overall I wouldn’t say that I’m ‘prepared’ for the big day, but I feel like I have a better understanding than I ever had before. We’ve also gotten the nursery done (pictures to come) so now my only thing left to do is pack a backpack for our trip to the hospital.
Today was definitely a first for me. I went to a baby related doctor’s appointment with no baby in tow (she’s not due for another two months) or my wife. I went and me with our soon to be pediatrician’s office to get information and see the office. Usually they have group meetings with the doctors and multiple parents, but today I lucked out and got to spend a few minutes one-on-one with one of the doctor’s at the practice. I was a little shocked when the founding doctor of the practice walked in wearing jeans and a very fashionable shirt, but I got over that very quickly. He wanted to know a lot about my wife and the details of the pregnancy. We spent a few minutes talking about the particulars of the practice and how they operated. I asked some very benign questions to him and he reassured me. Did I mention that all of this happened in an examination room? I walked out of the office with only one dilema, the fact that it had taken me around 15 minutes in traffic to make it about a mile and a half from my house. I decided to do some reconnoissance work going home and I figured out that there is a less traveled, very easy back way to the office from my house. I’m sure at some point I’ll have some sort of disagreement with their office, but for now I’m satisfied with our choice of pediatrician and it’s a good thing to have in my back pocket as we move forward in the pregnancy.
Being labeled ‘gifted’ is always a desire for students as well as their parents. Who wouldn’t want to have their child labeled as gifted by their school district? It’s affirmation by the educated in your community that your child is ‘smarter’ than the rest of the children in their school. Often people focus on the good aspects of being gifted and not the difficulties, but that will need to be saved for another post. Is every child labeled ‘gifted’ truly gifted? And if they are truly ‘gifted’ at one point in their life should they be labeled ‘gifted’ forever, or does our gifted-ness change through time? By no means do I have answers to all these questions, but I’m starting to see some commonalities.
What is considered ‘gifted’?
There is a ton of debate over what should be considered ‘gifted’ versus ‘good student’ or ‘smart’. In the state of Texas, “no more than five percent of a district’s average daily attendance are eligible for funding”, but funding does not always equal the total number of students in a program. Currently I work at a school of approximately 800 kids, and I have 57 gifted kids in my classroom every day. Simple math tells you that I have seven percent of my school’s daily attendance in my classroom every day, and I teach one subject and one grade level. Does that mean that mean that there are an abnormally high number of ‘gifted’ students in my district or that we may have set the bar too low? Or could there be other things at work?
Is it possible that what we consider a test that measures the gifted-ness of our students is actually just another test that we can teach to? I would say yes. Teachers, by nature, are a breed of humans that strive to have their children succeed. We want our students to do the best they possibly can. We do this by researching both the tendencies of our students as well as the tendencies of the test. We know our students from getting to know them and by both formative as well as summative assessments throughout the year. The test will take us a little while to figure out, but sooner than later we figure out the heart of a test and better equip our students to conquer it. People call this various things like “teaching to the test” but who wouldn’t if your job was on the line? But while teachers are out for the best interest of their students, there are others that take advantage of the desire to see children succeed. In this case people are making serious money off the ability to teach to the test. In some cases, the same company who is producing the tests is also supplying the textbooks to teach the students as well as private study materials (see here). In essence these companies are making money three different ways and one of them is by teaching kids strategies to test as gifted! I’m in favor of gifted education and having tests that can measure giftedness, but I doubt the spirit of giftedness is being taught how to beat the test by the makers of the test. The other problem with this is that it caters to wealthier children. Only those who have disposable income can afford to have their children how to do well on tests or buy supplemental books or classes. While I would concede that your home life is the biggest contributor to success in school, is it possible that the size of your family’s check book is a contributor as well?
In the end this mini-rant is not going to change the process of how we label students as gifted. What it will take to have something like this happen is a generation of people who want what’s best for kids…all kids. We need to realize that just because our children are not labeled ‘gifted’ does not mean that we have failed them as parents. Is it possible that a kid can go through their life in regular education and live a happy, fulfilled life? Absolutely. Somewhere along the way we have misunderstood happiness and success as what level of classes my student is taking in high school. Hopefully, we can better understand our own kids well enough as well as the big business world looking to make a buck off of their situation in life and take a couple of deep breaths. Is being gifted an indicator or success, maybe on some small level, but there are a billion other indicators that matter just as much or more.