In my fifth year of teaching, I accepted a position working at a public school for highly gifted kids. I remember thinking my prior experience—including being G/T certified—meant I’d be totally prepared for this job.
It was like my first year of teaching all over again.
Luckily for you, I have compiled all my teaching knowledge into a single document with easy-to-follow steps. At our small school, I taught 6th grade through freshmen, so you’ll see various grade levels listed here. But whether you teach a gifted kindergartner or gifted high school senior, I’m willing to bet you’ll recognize similar traits and behaviors and be able to adapt these instructions for use in your own classroom.
(Note: I have always disliked the term “gifted and talented,” since we know all children have gifts and talents. But as of writing this article, there hasn’t been a shift in terminology that would be widely recognizable, so I will use “gifted” here to mean “children with higher than average IQs who require specialized educational services.”)
OK. Here’s everything you need to know. Maybe.
How To Teach Gifted Kids in 7,000 Easy Steps
1. When you arrive in your classroom, start by cleaning and organizing any student messes from the day before you may have missed, including but not limited to:
- Magnet word poetry on your board that is so clever and inappropriate you laugh out loud. (Also realize you need to get rid of the “codpiece” magnet after Googling it.)
- A tiny plastic baby on your desk with a Post-it note and the label “Greg.” You have no idea what this means.
- One entire, whole shoelace on the ground.
- At least one musical instrument left behind.
2. Answer class phone. Listen to sweet front office worker explain, “I have a student in here only communicating in meows, so I assume he’s one of yours?”
4. Go to office to talk to meowing student.
5. Remind him that cats are not allowed in the science museum, and it would sure be a shame if he had to stay at school while his human peers saw King Tut’s tomb on Friday’s field trip.
6. When student says, “But the ancient Egyptians saw cats as gods,” say, “Yes, but unfortunately ancient Egyptians aren’t running the admissions desk at the museum. Come on. Back to class. As a human.”
7. Once you’ve returned to your classroom, remember that you’re introducing the rubric today for your 8th graders’ literature project.
8. Pull up the rubric on your computer.
9. Find any and all potential loopholes on the rubric and edit any vague language with the scrutiny of a Supreme Court clerk. Make sure the math adds up so you can avoid the whole “So wait, so I can just not do the written portion and still get a 75?” fiasco of last month’s project.
10. Just when you’ve hit your stride in rubric work, pause to have a brief meeting with your principal, who has pulled one of your students into the room.
11. Nod slowly when principal explains that student has been demanding other students tell her their deepest, darkest secret or else face a $10 PayPal bill.
12. Exhale loudly—like a dying breath—when principal says student explained that this was merely a tactic for getting “quality content” for the literary magazine she’s working on for your class.
13. Explain extortion.
14. Explain journalistic ethics.
15. Explain that you still love her.
16. Once the student is dismissed, exchange a look with your principal that you both understand means a combination of What the hell was that? and also Just another day in this job.
17. Welcome the sixth graders filing in for your first class, and by “filing in” I mean a range of motion that includes sashaying, robot walking, and a student daydreaming so hard they run into your supply cabinet and need an ice pack.
18. Tell students, “Hey, before we get started, two book-related issues we’re having lately. I’m hearing that some of you are intentionally spoiling the ending of books for other people. I’m also hearing of literal injuries that have happened from several of you trying to read while walking or climbing the stairs. Let’s go over our responsible reader norms.”
19. Think in your head how developing a list of responsible reader norms is one of several hundred things you never thought you’d need but had to create anyway in the process of teaching gifted kids.
20. During class, make a mental note that you should probably read the Google Docs play your 6th grade girls have been working on feverishly as a side project for weeks.
21. Tell one of the girls working on the play, “Hey, can you share that with me? Just so I can make sure you’re not, you know, revealing nuclear codes or whatever.”
22. Feel your eyes widen when she responds with utmost seriousness, “Are you sure? It’s pretty shocking material.”
23. Say, “Yes, I’m sure. I think.”
24. During your next class with 8th graders, pull one of your students into the hall before your group discussion to chat about grades.
25. You know your student isn’t motivated by grades, so talk to him about why he might need reading and writing in his goal to be a professional podcaster.
26. Watch in real time as your own teaching (“Didn’t you say that reading and writing skills sharpen each other?”) is used against you (“So, I can gain any skills I need by reading and writing on my own and not for school?”).
27. Stay silent for several seconds with your face like this:
28. Finally say, “Look. That comment is breaking my brain right now. But even as an award-winning podcaster one day, there will be things that you don’t want to do. The reality is sometimes we just have to do them.”
29. File it away for further contemplation when your student responds, “But reality is an illusion, and the universe is a hologram.”
30. Hold book discussion with your 8th graders (including, thankfully, podcaster). Realize that you need a new category of discussion points for “Stuff I Had Never Considered, Not Even With Over a Decade of Teaching Experience and Two Degrees.”
31. In the last class of the day with your freshmen, spend the first 30 minutes doing the following:
- Guiding a student in the hall through breathing exercises to avoid a panic attack (success!).
- Changing the due date of an assignment because as a class they successfully defended an argument for extending their work time that you couldn’t refute.
- Researching how to pronounce Scylla and Charybdis because everyone (you included) have suddenly decided this is crucial for comprehension of The Odyssey.
32. When your AP walks in to do an observation, die a little when one of your students says, “Oh, is this why you told us to put away the jigsaw puzzle we’ve been working on? Because you knew your boss would be here?”
33. After dismissal for the day, sit for a moment in your silent classroom in a sort of fugue state.
34. Consider what to do next. Planning curriculum for four separate grades for kids that learn and read at three times the rate of a traditional classroom? Prepping for IEPs since many of your students are twice- and even thrice-exceptional? Responding to emails from parents (many of whom are also gifted/anxious) with the same care, compassion, and patience you use for your students? Worrying about all your students, since their level of intelligence literally classifies them as at-risk?
35. Return to fugue state.
36–6,798. Repeat steps 34 and 35 6,762 times, or maybe even infinitely since the universe is a hologram.
6,799. Check your email and decide to finally click on the Google Docs play your 6th grade girls have been working on.
7,000. Spend the next several minutes reading and gasping at the compelling 15-page crime drama “The Death of Ms. Gretchen LaVerne.”
Through thoughtful professional development on the part of my principals, talented mentors, and my own classroom experience, I came to love (and be pretty dang good at) teaching gifted students. Though it was far from easy, I will always count my time at this school as my most formative and most treasured in my career.
P.S. All but one of these examples are true (but luckily didn’t happen in the same day). I’ll leave you to figure out which.
What’s your favorite moment from teaching gifted students? Let us know in the comments!
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