Sometimes, my being a former teacher is a detriment to my children. Normally, when they come home with stories and tales, I ask for or give them the teacher’s perspective before accepting their cries of injustice. They hate that. Always, I put myself in the shoes of the person at the front of the class before making any judgements as a parent. I KNOW parents get a different side to the story then what really happens. I know this, so I temper everything I hear from inside those classrooms with a heavy dose of perspective.
Sometimes, that may not be what’s best for my child.
We’ve struggled, all year with The Baby and his behavior in school. Simply put, (although, there is nothing simple about it) he doesn’t want to do much of the work and often acts out in increasingly loud and violent (to himself) ways in frustration. This frustration with school isn’t entirely new, but the behaviors have reached a level that must be addressed for the sake of everyone involved. As a parent, I want to wrap him in a blanket, carry him out and either begin homeschooling or fork over my entire full-time salary for a different school immediately. As a former teacher, I know there is more to the story, and so I go through the steps necessary to figure out how this kid can stay at this school without damaging himself or others in the process.
This is not an easy task.
We’ve been to the specialists. We’ve met with the teams. We’ve changed diet and routine. We’ve sought answers at every turn. We’ve hashed out plans and accommodations. We’ve read and written emails, some helpful and kind, some downright nasty. I’ve been proud of my behavior sometimes and others, embarrassed by it. I’ve been frustrated, confused, angry, sad, elated on the good days and just plain wiped out on the bad. Our big-hearted little dude has worked his head off trying to manage his moods and figure out how to best live in an environment that is clearly not suited to his character.
We’ve heard all the labels. We’ve even gotten one, this one from the second psychiatrist, in order to proceed with the special education process to hopefully make school a little less torturous for student and teacher. No one, most of all his parents, is entirely sure the label fits this boy, and the accommodations that go with it are inconsistent at best, but it’s there so we proceed.
Here is the problem, we, his mom (the former teacher) and dad, think we know exactly what’s up with our kid, but with my history in schools, I’m afraid to say it out loud, for it’s often a dirty word in education circles.
I remember when I was asked to teach the Gifted class of second graders, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But, I was new and eager so I said yes and then dug into as much research as I could find on what Gifted meant and how to teach kids with that code.
I’ll tell you what the definition of Gifted was among the teachers and many parents in my school: rambunctious, precocious brats who certainly weren’t the best students in class and often were the most troublesome. That’s what the Gifted kids in my school were thought to be, and when I first started teaching them, I mostly agreed. But, like all things in life, with a little time, my definitions and perspectives changed. Gifted kids are often precocious and they can be the most troublesome in class, because the way they view the world just doesn’t jive with the way a classroom, hell, forget classroom, most of our education system, works. But they are not brats and while they are not perfect, they are pretty amazing to teach and to parent.
Gifted kids are often very intelligent in certain areas, but that doesn’t mean school is easy or their grades are the tops. They think differently than most and that thinking is often more complex and forward moving than even the teachers of the class. Gifted kids are problem solvers. They have a pretty low bullshit meter and lets face it, most of traditional school can feel like bullshit to kids who are complex thinkers.
Gifted kids are extra-sensitive and have a heightened awareness, often from birth. You know what label people LOVE for kids who have heightened awareness? Yep, ADD. Guess what happens when they are extra-sensitive and have heightened awareness. You guessed it, ADHD. Throw in low-bullshit meter and the increased social skills to speak out about the injustices they see and you get defiant, oppositional or my favorite, troubled. Of course, there is always brat.
Here’s the kicker, all this complex thought and sensitivity doesn’t necessarily come with an increased maturity. Gifted kids are still little kids who can’t necessarily make sense of how they think the world should be and the reality of it all. Here comes anxiety. They know something isn’t right, they just don’t know why or how to change it.
Gifted kids learn a lesson about a water shortage in different countries and they don’t sleep for days because they are sick with worry about the kids their own age in Sierra Leone or Burkina Faso AND guilty over the fact that they sometimes shower too long.
Gifted kids don’t understand why they have to explain their thinking in math because they aren’t mature enough to understand that not everyone “just knows” how to solve the problem and teachers can’t “just know” that if they got the answer right that must mean they know what to do.
Gifted kids can often read early (try age 2) because they teach themselves through listening and observation, but they don’t like to read unless there is a specific purpose, like teaching themselves coding or learning about outer space. This resistance to reading does not translate into classroom learning very well.
Gifted kids understand all too well the plague that is writers’ block, because they are used to working from a creative place, not on demand. This doesn’t help when topics and genres are prescribed in class and if you don’t perform, you fail.
Gifted kids are aware of everything in a classroom; every sound, their classmate’s moods, the teachers’ agenda, their performance in comparison with the rest. They may look like they’re playing with legos, but they hear your conversation with the other person in the room and they are busy trying to make sense of whatever you are talking about, appropriate or not. They may look like they are checked out creating an origami dragon while you teach economic wants and needs, but they’ve heard everything you’ve said and will share it willingly at dinner that night. They know when things are a minute off schedule or if you’re shifting on the fly because the video you planned doesn’t work. They know it, and it all makes them busy with thought trying to make sense of it all.
Gifted kids are always on, and it is very, very tiring.
When we go to the different websites and read the list of characteristics, The Baby matches every single one. Every. Single. One. The minute this reality hit me, it felt like I was in the middle of the crash of a truck full of relief with a tanker full of distress. There is relief in knowing what was going on inside that big old brain of our boy and distress at knowing it wasn’t going to get any easier for anyone.
Gifted isn’t the label he was given and the accommodations he has don’t match the needs of a gifted kid. But, because I know Gifted is often a dirty word, we haven’t brought it up in school. We’ll work within the system and we’ll be honest with our boy at home.
In the end, no matter the label, he has to learn to live within the confines, at least for 8 hours a day, because the system hasn’t changed since I taught those kids in 1997 and it ain’t changing anytime soon. So, we’ll teach him the skills he needs to survive the system and hope every year his increased maturity will allow him to understand the nuances and play the game.
We’ll do this, at least until he’s old enough to run the game. Because he will someday, of that, we’ve always been certain.
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