The Parent Trap: The Talented and Gifted Child—Frequently A Product of Parent Imagination and Ego
by Betsy McMillin
It is September. That means school is back in session and it is time, across the country, for Curriculum Night. Working hand-in-hand with our kids’ teachers and principals is one of the most important things we, as parents, can do to ensure a successful productive school year. And it all starts on this night.
Last night I attended Curriculum Night at the elementary school where three of my children are attending this year. Since we are in the middle of a move, it is the first time for us as a family at this new school. I attended high school Curriculum Night last week, middle school will be later this week. I am steeped in Curriculum Night. As I listened to the teachers and principal as a new member of the audience, a few thoughts came to mind. I few thoughts we all can pay heed to.
Curriculum Night, as many of you know, and as we all are reminded every year, is for parents to attend the classroom(s) of their child(ren) and listen to the teachers and principal give an overview of the coming year. What to expect from the teacher, what to expect of the kids, where to go for more information, etc. It is not a night to discuss your child’s specific needs with the teacher.
I find that many overbearing parents know this rule well, so to skirt the rule they do the following: ask questions that appear to be about the whole class, but are actually to ensure we all know that their Johnny/Josephine is by far smarter than any other child in the classroom.
Questions such as:
- How do you, as the teacher, meet the needs of children who excel?
- How do you, as the teacher, keep my child from being bored/not challenged with the curriculum?
- Where can I find more reading to keep my child properly challenged?
- Will my child be credited if s/he does much more than the regular curriculum asks for?
It happens every year, although I find it is only with elementary school parents. Maybe by middle and high school we have mellowed a bit. Or maybe we have figured out that everyone doesn’t care if our child is the all that and a bag of chips. Maybe the gifted kids turned out to be not so gifted, or just gifted but full of ‘tween and teen issues just like all the other kids.
Tip: If your child is truly gifted, by now you surely know how to challenge her/him outside the public school curriculum. If your child is truly gifted, you have spoken to the teacher already about this. If your child is truly gifted s/he has been identified by the school and know how to meet any challenges.
If your child is truly gifted you don’t need to make a big deal out of it.
If your child is truly gifted, chances are we all know by now, as well.
Why truly gifted? Because there is a big difference between truly gifted kids and kids who do really well in school.
If your child is not truly gifted, but ahead of the game or just darned smart, then talk to the teacher about it prior to or later than Curriculum Night, or e-mail. I never hear any parents asking, at Curriculum Night, how to meet the needs of their child who is behind.
You may be thinking I am saying these things out of sour grapes, that none of my kids are truly gifted and I am just bitter. Truth be told, (so far… still have that sweet three-year-old yet to be determined, although she looks pretty darned smart to me… of course) my kids fall all over the learning spectrum. I have some who excel and are at the top of every grading scale, some in the middle, some at the other end. It irks me when parents have to hold their child on such a public pedestal. Sure, hold your child up on a pedestal, we all should, I know I do, but just be modest. Your child’s brilliance will shine brighter if it comes from her/his own actions, not your endless bragging.
Last night a parent asked of the third grade teacher this fair question:
Do you have any lists of appropriate reading material that I can get for my child? A list of books that you recommend for their independent reading?
The teacher gave this excellent answer:
“I can give you a list or you can find one on many websites. But for independent reading your child is the best judge of what they want to read. In class and in guided reading, I provide different genres and types of books with a great deal of discussion. Independent reading is for the love of reading as well as proficiency, and your child will love reading if they love what they are reading about.”
In other words, let your child be independent for a change and quick trying to micro manage every detail. Let them lead this activity. Quit trying to “challenge” them every waking moment. Let them do the choosing this one time, and no, they won’t fall into idiocy if they read one (or seven) Captain Underpants books (which I at first banned at my house, then gave in).
By the way… how many of you knew David Pilkey (author of the Captain Underpants series and many other children’s books) wrote Captain Underpants for children (esp. boys) who don’t love reading or find it difficult? It was his attempt to get kids with short attention spans, ADD and ADHD (which Pilkey has) to pick up a book. He remembered how difficult reading was for him as a young boy. In fact, the idea of Captain Underpants came to him as an elementary school student. He spent oh-so-many hours out in the hall after getting in trouble for misbehaving due to his ADHD. He wrote the books with short chapters, lots of pictures and limited text (as well as raunchy, kid-loved, parent-loathed humor) to let children with limited reading abilities feel successful in their reading. “Hey! I finished four chapters!” or better yet “A whole book!” is his goal. And it works.
Gives a whole new appreciation for Captain Underpants, doesn’t it?
After meeting with teachers, the principal gave a short (10-15 minutes…I love this man!) talk as is customary at Curriculum Night.
One thing in his talk that struck me was his discussion of the MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) which is given to all Michigan public school students in third, fourth and fifth grade. He said the words I love to hear and many more parents (and teachers, administrators) need to pay attention to:
“While the MEAP is important, there are many more assessments and ways of charting progress that are much more important to us. We don’t spend hours preparing for the MEAP, we don’t teach to the test. Please don’t try to specially prepare your child for this or get them nervous about it.”
I just about yelled out a huge ” WAY TO GO!!! WOOHOO!” like I was at my kids’ hockey game.
At our previous elementary school, there was much ado about the MEAP. Proper sleep! Parents sign up to make healthy MEAP snacks for all the kids! Let them chew gum as it helps brain function/attention span! Hours of precious classroom time spent teaching to the test! The principal spent a great deal of her Curriculum Night talking about the MEAP. Interestingly enough, the students at our previous elementary school didn’t do as well on the MEAP as our new one. (In April 2011, A2Politico posted a piece titled, “The Politics of Education: 2010 MEAP Scores Reveal Significant Achievement Gaps Between Elementary Schools in A2.” This is from that piece:
Many of the elementary schools of choice are those with achievement scores in reading, math, science and writing that have, since 2004, been significantly lower than those of students who attend King, Burns Park and the Open School. In other words, a child attending one of these schools would be much more likely receive instruction that results in proficiency rather than advanced mastery of the subject.
I know of course, that there are many variables that can alter test results, not just the school’s overall approach or feelings about the test. I also know that the MEAP is an important test as it defines strengths and weaknesses in the school, as well as allowing results to help establish school improvement needs. This being said, it is not the end-all that some schools make it out to be.
I personally question these results and don’t put too much stock into the end product.
My experience: my daughter did extremely well in writing. It was a known fact that she was gifted (yes, I used the G word) in writing. Her early (fourth grade) work was published, and she read on stage with Elizabeth Kostova (author of The Historian, her debut novel which was number one on the New York Times best seller list in 2005 and the number one fastest selling hard-back debut novel in U.S. history). She was asked to read her work at numerous events sponsored by 826 Michigan and was a frequent student there. When she took the MEAP, the area she did the poorest in? You got it, writing.
The new Principal also said something else that I liked. Or, I liked his angle on an old subject. He asked (as do most PTO presidents) that all parents to sign up for at least one event that the school puts on and needs help with. There were no less than 25 choices at a table behind me.
He said “It doesn’t matter if your neighbor signs up for every single activity. If you can do one, you are helping.”
Only one, maybe more?
So true. We all need to help out at our schools (see The Parent Trap, April 24, 2011). It seems obvious, but if we are reminded that we just need to help out one time, we have made a difference. No pressure, just give a little and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do more. If you can? Excellent.
We all want the best for our kids. School can give our kids a great deal, but only if we do our part. Curriculum Night is just the first night in an entire school year that we need to put our egos aside and listen to the teachers. It will be a year of working with them in order to maximize what our schools have to offer. If we really listen on Curriculum Night and all through the year, we will know best how to communicate with our kids teachers and then they, in turn, can listen to us. We know our kids best and most teachers are thrilled to have more information on their students and how to best meet all their needs. The key is to know how to approach teachers: How? E-mail or phone? When? School hours or evening? We won’t know if we don’t listen at Curriculum Night and all through the year. We need to follow the same rules our kids are following and do what the teachers are asking of us. Yes, they are our kids, but we are graciously handing them over to the teachers for the better part of the day. We need to be confident in the choices the teachers are making.
And if not? If the teachers are not doing their part or not meeting the needs of our kids? If we know that the choices are not in the best interest of our child? Then it is time to talk to the teacher ASAP and if that goes nowhere, go to the principal… quickly.
So… here is a toast to the new school year:
May you enjoy and learn from Curriculum Night. May you listen to your child’s teacher and be open to ideas. May you set egos aside, put your child first on the road to learning. May you sign up to bake, read to a class or work a game at the carnival. Best of all, may you experience a successful and fun school year. And maybe even check out (or allow) a Captain Underpants book for some light reading.
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