It's 1 AM and I'm not sleeping, even though it's summer and I'm officially "off," and should have no worries whatsoever.
You know that isn't true.
Tomorrow I need to be up at 7 so that I can drop DD at a friend's house while J drops DS at day camp so that I can go to professional development where I will learn how to create online classes for my students.
Teachers have it so easy.
This post isn't about that. It really isn't. It's about students. For the past 17 years I've taught gifted kids and I absolutely love them. I love how their brains work, I love how they don't work, too, sometimes and I love how they are interested and interesting. Maybe all kids are like that. I don't know. I've only truly worked with the gifted ones.*
I've been teaching in a "pull out" program for many years, where the gifted kids come to my class one day a week and we work on things like Thinking Skills, and learning how to research and present, how to solve problems and how to create new ones and how to work together as a team (for the love of all that is holy will you stop arguing already?!) and a variety of other skills that aren't really delineated at any particular grade level, but they really ought to be at every grade level.
Those are the skills that every other discrete skill set should be focused on improving, but we tend to lose sight of the big picture when we're all focused on test questions that, by the nature of testing, have to focus on the little, easily measurable things.
But this post isn't about testing, either.
It's about how our model for teaching gifted kids has changed and I'm now going to be "supporting" students and their teachers in the regular classroom, with the aim of having those students be challenged every day. We're following this model that seems to be working well out in Arizona, and checking out how it works in other districts and doing our best to figure it out as we go, but all of us are getting the question: what exactly are we supposed to do?
This is what this post is about and why I'm awake after 1:00 in the morning.
I took a shower to see if maybe that would make me sleepy and that was probably where I went wrong. I do a lot of thinking in the shower, and what I started to think about is the number of times I've been asked if I'm supposed to be helping challenge kids just in math, or is it just math and reading or...what is our focus, really?
That's a good question. What is our focus?
I've had multiple answers from multiple sources but I think, bizarrely, that just maybe our department needs to sit down and do something I truly detest doing and usually find a phenomenal waste of time: Define our mission, and our goals.
Way back when I started in my district, we had four broad, overarching goals for our department. I recently stumbled across it and recycled it and now I wish I hadn't because they were elegantly crafted by some amazingly smart and dedicated women who Knew. Their. Stuff. when it came to gifted education. These goals spoke to not just striving to develop deep thinkers and problem solvers, but to bringing students to the realization that there is a big, big world out there and an even bigger one inside of them and they need to learn how to unlock all of it if they are going to suck the marrow out of life. A subsequent leader discarded these goals in favor of more "curricularly aligned" goals, which could still include problem solving, but the larger picture started to get lost.
Now we're down to wondering if we're here to support just math and reading only.†
Our model has changed, our jobs have changed, the technology is changing by the minute and not one of us can say "This is the big picture. This is what I'm here to help you do."
As a "big picture," whole-to-part thinker, this is keeping me up at night.
As much as I hate to say it, we need a mission statement.
Our district has one, and I think, if we all took it to heart and really honestly tried to follow it, we'd tell the State of Ohio Board of Education and our Legislature to take their "value-added" tests** and stick them where the sun don't shine because we are too damn busy teaching our students how to be prepared for a world not one of us can imagine and ain't nobody got time for teaching to the damn tests.††
It's time we sat down as a department and asked ourselves what is the big picture, and what our mission should be. Is it challenging kids in math and reading, or is it helping them figure out how to be successful as gifted people in a world that is often not built for them? Is it all of the above?
There's a lot more to unpack here, like "why should gifted kids get all this stuff and not everyone else?" and "are gifted kids really that different from other kids? Why should they get something special?" and "do gifted kids really exist?" and....well, lots of other things I'm not going to write about here because this is long enough already.
It's almost 2 now, and I have to be up in 5 hours. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll spend some of it sleeping.
*that's not entirely true. I have taught non-gifted kids, and found them, in general, so be less intriguing for me than gifted ones. I'm sure I'm equally puzzling to them.
†as if that's even possible. Show me a science, social studies or problem solving lesson that involves neither math nor language skills and I'll show you a blank piece of paper.
**based on a model for agriculture. Seriously. Agriculture. (if the link doesn't work, try loading it up in an "incognito" browser.)
††ok, so this post is sorta about testing, too. I lied. Sue me.