Thursday, July 12, 2007

Smarties

I spent June in a place that was not NYC, teaching at a very intensive program for smarty smart high school students. I taught 6 hours each weekday and 3 on Saturday. It was exhausting, my friends. Aside from this it was interesting for two reasons: 1) the teaching of the gifted and 2) the teaching of the under-aged. Part 2 was strange as I had to think about what I said to them ALOT, and I could not show R rated movies and at the end I had to talk to their parents.

While all that is fascinating, I really want to write about the fact that they were all gifted. Most of my teaching experience prior to this was at community college, where I definitely had some smart kids, but also had a lot who struggled. Despite that I have not yet met a student who was dumb. I would say most of my students who struggled were never given tools to help them in school, and a few just didn't care. It was impressive to see kids so confident in their academic abilities -- they were not fazed by a thing having to do with school. On the other hand, this at times lead to them demonstrating a sense of over-entitlement. Some thought they should just be handed everything in life, because they were so smart. And I heard some talk about how they don't 'act smart' at school, because they want to fit in.

It made me think a lot about all this labeling of 'gifted' we do. Does it really help people to be told they are gifted or not in first grade? I was put in gifted classes sometime in grade school, and school is really the one thing I have never questioned my abilities in. In a way, that was awesome for me, but shouldn't everyone have that chance? How many of the kids who aren't gifted would act more gifted if someone just told them they were smart and could do well in school? I was also troubled by the way we were taught to teach gifted kids. I guess it is true that when people memorize faster, you can move past that on to more abstract concepts and get to do more fun classroom stuff like creative projects and discussions and debates, but just because you have to spend more time on facts doesn't mean class has to be so boring. We were told so much about keeping it exciting for the kids and all I could keep thinking was, "Why do only the smart kids deserve interesting classes?"

I came out of it really missing my students who had to work harder, and to who stuff didn't come so easily. I met a lot of people who dreamed of teaching gifted students, and some who said that would only teach if they could teach the gifted. I don't know, but I don't think that's totally fair. Why should all these good teachers go to the students who might not need them? There's a lot of obsession with how to keep these smart kids interested in school, but it just left me feeling like the other kids were all forgotten.

In the end, I am glad I did the program, and would do it again, but it really made me appreciate my community college experience. Which is good, as since we are going to be a 2 academic family I like to keep my options open, and have greatly considered the idea of teaching at community colleges in the future. I think it would be great to have more professors at that level who also had research programs so that everyone could be exposed to that aspect of education.

1 comment:

katie said...

You know, some people want to be mentors--they want to be around when the smart kids are around so that they can get the credit for inspiring them. And some people want to be teachers--they want to teach, to actually help someone learn.

I've thought alot about that gifted/confidence link. Especially since my parents had to go in and pester the school into letting me take the IQ test a second time before I "passed". And as much as I hate those sorts of parents now, I know that G/T classes were about the only place I would open my mouth in elementary school, and that opened the way to lots of other opportunities that I wouldn't trade.