I have a dear friend in Ireland whom I met through Twitter because we were both mothers of gifted children and shared a sense that we could make the world a better place by sharing our experiences about what we have learned throughout their lifetimes. Recently, she wrote a blog post concerning how her relationships with her children’s teachers affected their time in school. It made me begin to think of similar experiences I have had with my children's teachers.
I am not a teacher. My background in sociology and experience as a parent have taught me that parent-teacher relationships are critical to the quality of education your child receives in school. It’s like a symbiotic relationship cubed. I am a firm believer in the “it takes a village to raise a child” approach to parenting.
Teachers can be difficult when dealing with gifted children. I have witnessed it in the classroom and have experienced it as a parent. However, parents can also be insensitive in the manner in which they approach teachers. It doesn't have to be this way.
I’d like to offer a few suggestions to parents to help you improve your relationship with your child’s teachers. First, remember that teachers are human, too; they have feelings that can be bruised and can react just like anyone else. Second, when it comes to gifted education, very few teachers have had any exposure to it while in college or subsequently through professional development. This is a worldwide problem in gifted education.
When you first meet a teacher, don’t assume that they are experts in every facet of education. Your first experience probably involved an elementary teacher soon after your child was identified as gifted. Your initial reaction was to learn everything you could about what it meant for your child to be gifted. Do not assume that this is the teacher's top priority.
Unless your child is fortunate enough to enroll in a program specifically designed for gifted children, his or her regular education teacher will be under many demands that you do not even realize. In today's world, the pressure to get all students to proficient on standardized tests can overwhelm a teacher. Budget cuts to education only make matters worse. Increased class sizes, supply shortages that often fall on the teacher's shoulders and student behavior which has been on a downward spiral for over a generation can take their toll on a teacher.
Enter the new gifted parent. I want my child accelerated. My child’s needs aren't being met. Why can’t you provide differentiated instruction? My child is bored in your class. Get the picture? Right away, the teacher is put on the defensive. They may agree with you, but certainly don’t feel like facing demands before they get to know your child.
Share your child’s educational and developmental history, and provide the teacher with information you have found concerning gifted education. Their response to your efforts will be a good indicator as to their willingness to work with you. If they respond negatively, it may be time to look for other alternatives.
Is this your job? No, but a little bit of understanding can go along way in building a positive relationship with the teacher. Will every teacher respond to this approach? Absolutely not. But making the effort could make all the difference for your child and that is what is most important.
I have found it invaluable to get involved with gifted advocacy. Organize parents and meet with each other not only to advocate for gifted education, but to also support one another. Bring teachers and gifted administrators into your group. Express your desire to work together. Join state and national advocacy groups and educate yourself. Become a resource for the teacher rather than an adversary. Learn about what other school districts in your area offer in regard to gifted opportunities. By networking, parents can often enlighten educators as to what is available.
It is possible for you and your child’s teacher to work together. Developing a relationship based on mutual respect can go a long way. If that relationship does not develop, consider other educational options for your child. At the end of the day, your child's well-being must be the main consideration.