Yesterday I was enjoying my time with my class when I had a teacher panic moment. Right now, teachers are under a microscope with laser-like focus on teacher-accountability/teacher-quality/data-driven lessons and curriculum manufactured to drive student learning as measured by higher performance on high-stakes exams. It was the last ten minutes of the hour and my principal came in with some new equipment (yay!) for my classroom. Honestly, I was happy because the gifted classroom is usually not at the top of the purchasing list - but I digress. Anyway, the panic hit me when he left the room. To someone who does not know what goes on in a gifted classroom, particularly MY gifted classroom, it may have looked like, well...recess - free time - social hour - you get the idea.
I immediately began thinking of reasons why my class looked the way it did - after all, they weren't all silently reading at their tables. They weren't all silently tapping away on keyboards doing research. I was not at the forefront of the classroom at my lectern lecturing on critical thinking in forensic science. There was a lot going on - I mean a lot!
We had just finished listening to a thirty-minute career and research presentation on Aerospace Engineering from a student who barely spoke ten sentences together all year long - and it was AMAZING! Who knew he had so much to say? He even had an interview with a NASA aerospace engineer as one of his sources!
We were also loud - thank goodness I don't have classrooms on either side of me because there always seems to be heated and passionate discussions or raucous laughter going on. I do, on occasion, get the SRO, whose office is above my classroom, to come down and get onto my students about their volume - sorry Deputy Neupert!
But as I go back to the snapshot in my memory of what was going on at the moment when my principal walked in, it became clear to me that my dream was coming true. True, he may have seen students scattered across the four corners of my classroom - two students on the floor under a table, a group of students gathered at a table on laptops and iPads using a backchannel to communicate and laugh, students digging through and playing with Legos, another coloring a picture, and a group of students gathered around my desk laughing while I was sitting with my feet up on my desk. Damning evidence? Nope. Not in my classroom.
What I saw was two gifted students who alone, isolate themselves from others in school because of their abstract views on life and everything adolescent, yet they found each other in my classroom and were under the table privately talking, socializing, and building a relationship. The group of students using technology to communicate are known in their challenge classes as the quiet and reserved ones, yet are extremely hard to stifle in my classroom. Ideas, creativity, and laughter come from their table on a daily basis. They look forward to gathering in my class and collaborating about the daily topic.
My student coloring at a table was coloring a logo he designed himself and was putting the finishing touches on it for his research presentation on college football vs. the NFL for next week. I saw my students using Legos to build a robot and problem solve a programming glitch that kept it from propelling a ball at the speed they desired and were running some trials, and the students gathered around my desk? They were telling me about how hard it was that I was their third - yes, third - gifted education teacher in one year, and it was this time last year when they were told they would be getting a new teacher (me). They needed reassurance in knowing I would be there for them. They were telling me of their "trust issues" and how some teachers didn't understand them. They listened to me prattle on about how I live with my idiosyncrasies and were relieved and amused because many of them have similar eccentricities and mannerisms. They know I can relate and help.
No, my classroom is not recess or free-time for the gifted students, nor do I stand at the front of the room commanding attention. It is a delicate blend of harmony, dysfunctional opportunities, teachable moments, and student-led learning. All in all, it is the beginning of the ultimate vision I have for my students; a place where they feel safe to be themselves until they are comfortable to own it outside my classroom doors. A place where they enjoy learning and the learning does not look like what goes on in a traditional classroom A place where I facilitate the process of learning, not dictate the content to be learned.
Yes, the regular education teacher of fourteen years in me panicked, but I realize through reflection and deep breaths that my students are doing just fine - and so am I.
I am a former gifted child/student and currently a gifted adult and Gifted Education Specialist in the best middle school in the world!