Tag Archives: school

Identifying Gifted Children


“Oh, my son is gifted, so he’s going to a special school now.”IMG_3161

“My daughter’s in the gifted class.”

“My children take all AP classes. They’re gifted learners.”

You know these parents, and they might annoy you. But that’s okay, because at some point, on some level, we all become these parents.

Giftedness is an American phenomenon. As parents and/or teachers, we need to re-examine the classification.

Identifying giftedness is one of the many complex issues imbedded in the culture of modern American parenting and education. Because our culture has placed an inordinate emphasis on producing super-children, we have placed a good deal of pressure on all children to succeed in order to be special. The gifted-identification process has also saddled parents with a heavy responsibility of analyzing the level of their children’s abilities from preschool on up. Parents feel compelled to provide an environment commensurate for their children’s intellectual and physical abilities and potential. I’m afraid we have taken identification and labeling to dangerous levels.

We can’t seem to stop ourselves. No parent wants a normal kid anymore. If you doubt that, you haven’t been to a kindergarten conference or a soccer game for 5-year-olds. Futures are at stake there. Career, college, and self-esteem all ride on the coattails of correctly identifying and addressing the highly skilled, highly verbal, inquisitive and imaginative natures represented by cute little bodies happily kicking balls and chasing butterflies.

But that’s not to say we should ignore giftedness. No, we should learn what it is, in a non-competetive environment.  It’s a controversial, heavily-researched topic. I suggest you do some homework before applying any labels or forming any expectations. Just keep in mind, if you are a parent, you will decide that at least one of your children will fit the description perfectly. (There’s a genius lurking inside one of your children, you know. There has to be!)

Giftedness by definition covers a broad spectrum of characteristics. Some are observable and some are testable. Many oddly resemble characteristics found in bright children, confident children, autistic children, and children with ADD. So diagnose carefully. I recommend reading the following websites to get a clearer understanding of giftedness:



In my research, I also found the following article “10 Myths about Gifted Students and Gifted Programs” by Carolyn Call (http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/14/ten-myths-about-gifted-students-and-programs-for-gifted), which might be a good starting point. Its blog posts ranged from insightful to amusing. (Not everyone with an opinion about giftedness is actually gifted.) The following is a synopsis of Carolyn Call’s 10 myths about giftedness:

  1. Intelligence is inherited and does not change.
  2. Giftedness can be accurately measured by IQ tests or achievement tests.
  3. There is no need to identify giftedness before 3rd grade.
  4. Gifted kids read all the time, wear glasses, and are socially awkward.
  5. Gifted kids are model students; they are well-behaved and make good grades.
  6. Gifted kids work to their potential.
  7. Teaching gifted kids is easy because they love to learn.
  8. Gifted kids don’t need special attention because they can teach themselves.
  9. Gifted kids can tutor their classmates who are behind.
  10. All children are gifted.

These are just 10 of the most common mistakes parents and teachers make when attempting to classify children. Let’s not make assumptions that can erroneously lump kids into categories from which they can never escape. Let’s do our homework and give our children some breathing room.

Perhaps we could just give the labels a break and figure out how to inspire our children to love authentic, organic learning. Learning to create, learning to organize, learning to analyze, learning to communicate, learning to persevere, learning to daydream. Why can’t the quest for excellence be a product of character, rather than an ingredient for success?

In addition to asking the question “Is my child gifted?”, the more important question might be–“How can I help my child continue a life-long pursuit of learning?” 

A love of learning will serve him better in the long run than a label or a special class at school.

Please leave your comments!



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How to substitute teach (and survive)

When people find out that I substitute teach, they usually respond like this: Why would you want to do that?

Unless those people are teachers themselves. Then they respond: You do?! Have you ever subbed _____ grade? (They’re desperate.)

The answer is Yes, I have. I have subbed them all. I have favorite grades and favorite schools and favorite subjects. And I have a never-sub-there-again list.

Most adults remember with chagrin their own school day antics, enjoyed at the expense of substitute teachers. They remember switching seats with classmates, answering roll-call to the wrong names, and talking the teacher out of homework assignments, quizzes, due dates, and rules about anything and everything (dress code, eating in class, hall passes, bathroom breaks, headaches, stomach aches, going outside, etc.) I remember one day in 9th grade algebra when we turned every desk around to face the back of the room before our teacher came in. Oh wait, that was our regular teacher, not the sub. (Yes, we were that bad.)

And still I became a teacher.IMG_0006

First, I became a classroom teacher, then a substitute teacher, then a homeschool mom, then a private tutor. I don’t know why, but I have a fascination for entering the arena called a classroom. I believe teaching–especially substitute teaching–to be one of the best preparations for many professions in life (sales, leadership, public speaking) because every day, you must enter an anti-you environment and garner success out of sheer determination and poorly-detailed plans. It’s like being a Red Sox hitter and stepping up to the plate in Yankee Stadium: playing is just survival, but hitting a home run is success.

To substitute effectively, you need 3 primary skills: a keen memory, a perceptive mind, and a sense of humor. Parenting experience can help (depending on what kind of parent you are), but former teaching experience serves better. (After all, these kids don’t love you and you don’t feed them.) We regular subs can give newcomers to the profession a few pointers:

1. If you act like a real teacher, they will believe you are a real teacher. If you act nervous or compliant, they will eat you alive. (Notice the Wicked Queen costume above. First graders followed me around all day and held up my train!)

2. Smile at your students, but don’t be fooled by their smiles. Kids–especially teenagers–who are trying to pull a fast one often smile while they weave their artful tales. While you’re listening, look for the Daisy Do-Good in the room, who will be vigorously nodding in affirmation or shaking her head in disgust. Trust her, if you can’t trust your intuition.

3. Assume no one is sick or unable to hold his bladder for the duration of your class. Students are always looking for a reason to leave class, especially when they assume there’s nothing to miss. Guaranteed, their regular teachers don’t let them leave whenever they want. You may have a legitimate case. (I recently had a responsible student begin the morning perky, ask to go to the office by snack time, return to class without a fever, and by 1:00 was full-on with the flu. His falling asleep at lunch tipped me off.)

4. Watch for phones, iPods, and gaming. Kids really aren’t allowed to have electronics out. Yes, they will tell you that they need it for a calculator or their reading material. Again, intuition is your friend.

5. When you have a question or you need to verify a statement, don’t trust the “cool kids;” ask a quiet, nerdy kid whose work is out and organized; he will give it to you straight. No, we don’t have class outside or Yes, we have to do our own work. (Stereotypes exist for a reason.) Once I found a student from another class hiding in the closet in my classroom. The faces of the Daisy Do-Goods told me something was amiss, so I checked. Yes, that was a bit embarrassing.

6. A regular teacher’s long-term relationships with her students gives her the right to demand respect because over time, she has earned it by caring about her students. Substitute teachers don’t have that luxury. You have to demand cooperation only on the basis that you are writing up a report for their regular teacher on how each of them performs in class. (That’s why you take role and look at their faces. You have developed a gift for remembering who does what.) Sometimes it helps to give students your teaching resume. Students generally respond more respectfully and responsibly when they know that their class is being managed by a real teacher. (If you are a parent or a newbie, pretend you are a real teacher and be firm.) This is not to say that you can’t, in the first few minutes, develop enough rapport with your class to garner their respect and interest for the next 50 minutes or 6 hours. This is always my attempt. but the first recommendation is gold.

I have a caveat here about how to develop rapport. When you take the required county’s class for substitute teaching requirements, one of the cautionary rules is to never share anything personal about yourself with your students. I suppose the aim is to maintain a sense of professionalism and reserve. I have found the opposite to be true, with the exception to hostile environs (where I never sub–some things can’t be done well). I have found that students want to connect with their teachers, even their substitutes. Finding common ground in the first few minutes is critical to their desire to work and listen to you. Please feel free to comment on this. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way.

7. Try to meet the administrator and neighboring teachers. Smile and shake hands firmly. Ask intelligent questions and praise their school environment. You might need their help during the day. They know you’re the sub. You don’t have to pretend like you know everything.

8. Always find out the procedure for discipline. You might not think someone under your tutelage would disrupt your lesson, hurt another student, make out with another student, break the dress code, cheat on a quiz, or sleep on his desk–but it’s been known to happen.

9. If you sub for elementary school, you have some additional information to acquire, like what songs do they sing and for what occasion? what’s the routine with the weather chart and reading time? are they allowed to use markers? can they use drawing paper or scissors or tape? where are the room assignments? what happens when someone tattles? what should you do about crying? which kids have allergies? what if someone vomits or wets his pants? These and many more important topics should be addressed. Believe me, there is a right way to handle each. The kids with the tidy desks will tell you how it’s done.IMG_0031

10. Leave detailed notes for the regular teacher and thank her. Share anything cute or funny that happens during the day, including the interaction and response to the lesson(s) you taught. Make sure you tell the teacher what material you did and did not cover (it doesn’t help you to pretend you got through all the work, when you didn’t. Trust me, the kids will tell the teacher what you did and did not do, as well as how much they liked you.) If you like subbing, the path to a regular subbing job or permanent teaching job is to connect with the teachers already at the school. You want to become invaluable to them.

Good luck! Subbing is not for the faint-of-heart, but it is rewarding. And you get to leave at 3 pm with no papers to grade, no emails from frustrated parents, and no lessons to prepare during the evening. Subbing is almost like a regular job. Plus the feel of an arena.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ― William Arthur Ward

What are your experiences? Please leave a comment.

6 Things I Love About School Starting

This is the time we’ve dreaded all summer. School is starting. Gone are the days without regulated beginnings and endings. Gone are whimsical mornings on the seashore and guilt-free ice cream runs. Gone is the feeling of exhaustion from doing nothing but baking under the summer sun. I don’t want it to end. And yet . . . .

School exhilaration sets in. There are things I love about school starting. Maybe only 6, but they’re big:

1. The kids leave for school. Their summer entertainment committee goes into recess (that’s me). Yep, come August, we moms are plum out of ideas and frankly tired of our kids under foot. (Oh, come on, admit it. You like them back on a schedule, too.) 1-1232109440vZAR

2. School supplies. Well, I don’t really like the buying part because that’s always ridiculously expensive, but I like putting everything out on my kitchen table and looking at
it. All those supplies will never look new and fresh again, and they will never all come home again at the same time, even when they’re supposed to. However, at the end of the year I wi
ll find many spiral notebooks with only a few of the pages filled. These will retire to the cupboard where all partly-used notebooks live, but I will forget about them at this time next year and buy new ones again. School supply time is the only moment of the year where  I feel completely in charge of my surroundings. Ahead of the game. Or at least, up to speed. 

And then comes the fun task of labeling. This is really the best part–the part where an ordinary notebook becomes a notebook with purpose, all because I wrote on the cover. I label all the kids’ notebooks and binders, including any divider pages.  (Hey, my handwriting is better than theirs!)  I stand back and admire my work. Like I said, none of it will look this good again. Obviously, I’m a visual person. And a little OCD. Okay, really OCD, but only when it comes to school supplies.

3. Curriculum. I’m gaga for curriculum. This is the secret reason moms home-school their children. They just want to buy curriculum every year and see how it all fits together. For me, I want to see the take-home pages and look through all the books (warning: less exciting the older the kids get). English is a heaven for curriculum lovers–all those novels, short stories, poems, vocabulary, grammar, writing prompts, book reports. Aaahhhh! Delicious. Even when I’m not home-schooling, which is most of the time, I want to buy curriculum.

4. Skimming the teacher’s syllabus. This is a risk–sometimes the syllabi are really boring. But sometimes, they’re exciting, because the teacher gives me her expectations for my child. Oh, I love it when the syllabus reads, “I expect students to have integrity” or “There will be no plagiarism and no googling for definitions” or “Students will be expected to read the whole book.” My kids think this is dictatorial, but I don’t. Amen, sister! Make him work!

5. Spirit wear. Sheer fraud, but a contagious activity. It’s like selling whole life insurance to old people. We don’t need it, but you know we’re going to buy it for everyone–kid, dad, mom, even the car and dog. Shirts (dry-fit and cotton), sweatshirts, pajama pants, stadium seats, mugs, umbrellas, blankets, belts, key chains, car magnets, flags, noise makers, baby onesies, jackets, hats. The list is endless. (You know you have earrings in school colors somewhere.) And the saddest thing is, I do it every year because the kid always loses his sweatshirt before it actually gets cold enough to wear it. The t-shirts shrink into baby size, and those dog-gone retailers come up with cuter spirit wear than they did the year before. I can’t stop myself.  And then, of course, I get to label all of it. Double pleasure.

6. Parent volunteering. Don’t hate me. I like it. (You just have to pick the right jobs!) I like checking into the elementary school and putting on my “parent volunteer” label (silent applause for myself goes on inside my head). Then I go to my assigned area, and you know I’m not much help–I’m just looking for my kid to come into view. You do it, too. My son enters, unaware of my presence and happily being his natural little self. I see him with his friends. I see him in line (mine’s the one with his hands trailing along the wall, touching all the artwork), I see him whispering when he’s supposed to be quiet. I see him trade laughter with a classmate. He really doesn’t get any less cute when he grows up. I’m still looking for him, at his college, picking him out in a crowd.

My kid. Living life and experiencing community without me hovering over him. School is fulfilling, almost like a morning on the seashore.

Until reality strikes, usually by the end of the first week. And wouldn’t you know, it struck while I was writing this blog! I just realized that tonight I missed the mandatory parents’ informational fall sports meeting. So there you have it. Organizational pride over. The applause  is no longer going on inside my head.

Next blog: “6 Things I Hate About School Starting.”

What about you?


image by Petr Kratochvil