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Being Gifted in an Urban School

December 2, 2009

I have been teaching in an urban district for almost ten years. I have taught students of all sorts of socio-economic status, and all ranges of intellect in my classrooms. I have always, tried to treat each student the same, and tried to find success in all my students so that I could accent that success when talking to parents face-to-face, or in a postcard or letter home. It wasn’t until I began to teach gifted children that I began to see that success isn’t always seen as a positive experience.

I have been seeing a reoccurring theme in the past few years around the time grade cards come out. Some of the smart students and some of the gifted students will try to hide or down play their grades. It’s like having a scarlet letter on your chest if you get great grades. It really began to concern me as I began to talk about the experiences my students we having around grade card week.

Last week we had issued our grade cards, and teachers were putting up brag boards about who made the Honor Roll, along with their GPA’s. I had a few of my gifted students come to me and tell me they hate seeing their names up on the board because they feel like it targets them for more ridicule from other students. These students get a 4.0 or close to it every quarter, and they work hard at what they do, but they hate having to explain to their friends that school just comes easy for them.

I need to say this: our district, like other districts in our state, is very good at showing off the students who are very intelligent, and those who show great improvement. Students will tell you they get a lot of praise of teachers and administrators about their successes and improvements. But, sometimes I think we as teachers (and I will include parents here as well) don’t teach students to praise each other for their successes.

I believe at times in the urban setting it is easier to accent failure than to reinforce success. There are a lot of good parents out there who are doing everything they can to get their children to succeed who live in urban areas. Now place in the gifted child, who by intellect is already different than most of their peers; they get good grades, and get the accolades of their teachers. Some students see that as negative. They are seen as the teacher’s pet. They don’t want to be seen as the class “nerd” when you have to have to have a strong “street” persona when you are at home.

What can we do for gifted children who succeed and down play their success in urban districts? I have to be honest and tell you I don’t know the right answer to that question. I have some ideas, but obviously each child is different as well as the situation and district they belong to.

We as educators need to nurture the gifted student. Sometimes they see themselves different from other students. Intellectually they are above their peers, but emotionally they are the same as their peers. Show them being intelligent doesn’t have to make you different. I love the Intel® commercials where they say, “our superstars aren’t like your superstars.” Those commercials are showing its ok to be smart. We need to do the same. We need to show gifted students it ok to be gifted, smart and intelligent, because in the future they may be a “superstar” in their field.

We need to show them success is important, and where success can take them. I know that students don’t always see the future very well, or understand it. So we show it to them. We need to take them to colleges and business. If you can get the chance take your gifted students to a college campus. This is a great time for middle school scholars to see where they are working toward. College campuses offer so much. If they can get a chance to talk to some students there, and to the admissions people so they can read and hear about the qualifications to get into a college. It’s amazing how well some gifted students take a challenge. We also need to take them to a successful business in the community. For example law firms, where they can see what lawyers do other than in court. What it took to become a lawyer. Take these students where they can see successful people working and making a difference in the community they live in.

I also believe it is important for gifted students to have role models. I believe we need to find out what their passions are, and try to find someone in that field that they can look up to. If possible write letters or postcards to get connected. If the right technology is available to use such as Skype® to communicate then take advantage of that. I firmly believe that if they can see someone doing what they want to do, they will see the reality of themselves doing it.

Again, I don’t know exactly what we can do for gifted children who succeed and down play their success in urban districts, but I believe that we have to try to show them possibilities that are out there beyond the urban setting.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2009 3:03 am

    It’s not just in urban settings that kids (and often parents) look down on intelligence. In the public school that my daughter attended, and where I led a Girl Scout troop, athletic ability was praised, and academic ability down played. This was in a suburban school with a mostly working class population. Now my daughter attends a small private school, where even though there are no grades, the academic expectations are higher. I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to propose college visits and other academic-oriented activities to the Girl Scout troop at this private school than it was at the public school. I don’t have any answers as to how to change the negative mindset, but I’m hoping that volunteer organizations like Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts will help inspire emerging leaders.

    • Anonymous permalink
      December 3, 2009 2:25 pm

      You are right. I know that this happens at alot of schools. I have only taught at an urban school, so I know what I saw first hand. We have a program called Gear-up, that takes kids to college visits every year from 5-8th grade. This has been at our school for 3 years, but the students I most have parents who never went to college so they don’t see the visits as a real possibility. but planting the seed they they can succeed is very important and I think we are blessed to have this program. I hope that other schools will do the same.

  2. Pamela permalink
    December 4, 2009 12:05 am

    I believe the problem comes from a system which groups children by age, rather than by their individual learning levels, and then assigns grades based on how well or poorly the students are able to handle the assigned work. Graded systems are inherently unfair to all students and students respond to this, even if they’re not able to articulate what it is they’re responding to. When the emphasis in schools shifts from a competitive system to one in which learning, creativity, and critical thinking are valued, and in which students are given the opportunity to work toward their own personal best, it will help. There will still be students who feel envious of those whose abilities exceed their own, but if each is acknowledged for his or her accomplishments, the envy should be lessened.

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