What’s it Like to Be a Gifted Student in a Rigid Classroom?
I was speaking with a mother of a gifted son who was lamenting that her son was not allowed to draw, doodle, or read in class when he had finished an assignment or was bored. The teacher was afraid he would not be paying attention. It made me think of when I was a child and the only way I could attend to what a teacher was saying was to be drawing while listening. That thought made me recall this letter that I have saved in my old files that had been used as an example of what some gifted children experience in rigid classrooms. I saved it because I think it is very poignant and gives us pause to be more sensitive to what such students have to endure.
Yesterday you got really, really, mad at me in class. I didn’t argue with you because that just makes you madder and being yelled at makes my stomach feel funny and I can’t think. But I want to say what happened. Maybe you will understand why it looks like I don’t pay attention in class.
You told us to open our books to chapter 4 and read silently. Then you asked everyone to put your hand up if we had finished the third page and Sean didn’t. You waited for him to finish the page. Then you told us to take turns reading out loud. When you got to me, I asked you what paragraph to start on, and you started yelling at me. You asked me a lot of questions but you didn’t let me answer any of them. You answered them yourself but the things you said weren’t true answers!
This is what happened. I started reading when you said. I finished the chapter and stopped because you get mad if I read any more. I didn’t get out another book because that makes you mad too. I didn’t doodle or do math or talk to Sarah or get up or walk around because those things make you mad. So I worked on my Greek in my head until you called on me. I tried to keep track of where the other kids were when they were reading. And I had the right page. I just didn’t hear where Kim stopped. Her voice is soooo quiet and the verb I was saying was too loud in my head! So it’s not true that I was daydreaming! And I’m not stuck up or arrogant or insolent or any of the things you said I was! I TRY to follow along but I CAN’T read that slowly!
You said you got mad because I was wasting everybody’s time. But I just asked “which paragraph”? Look at your watch and say it too. It takes 2 seconds. You could have said “the third paragraph.” That takes 2 seconds. I timed it too. Then Sarah and Amy R and Amy B would have 6 minutes to read aloud. Instead you yelled at ME for 6 minutes and they did not get to read anything!
Peter takes almost a whole minute to read “Ben heard the bear cough behind him.” I timed him. It’s a game I made up to pay attention instead of doing Greek or making up poems in my head. If I ask you what paragraph and you tell me, it still takes me less than half a minute for me to read a whole paragraph. So I guess I don’t understand why you are mad or why you used 6 minutes to tell the class what a bad stupid mean person I am because I wasted their time for 4 seconds. I think YOU wasted their time!! And I think YOU were mean to call me those names in front of everybody!
I want to do what you tell me! I don’t understand why I can’t keep reading at the end of a chapter. Or get out my other books or study my Greek. Or draw or doodle or write in my journal. But you don’t want me to do that so I don’t. But I can’t sit and stare at the wall. If I try to do that I just start thinking about something else! I don’t know HOW to not think! I don’t know HOW to read slowly! Please tell me what to do so it won’t make you mad at me all the time. And PLEASE don’t yell at me in class.
Your sad student,
If you have a sad story similar to Anne’s, with hopefully a good ending, share it with us. Otherwise please be aware, if you are educating gifted students, that they are functioning at a different level than most, that they are often forced to deny who they are in favor of fitting into an uncomfortable expectation, and that options that allow for choice and different paces will usually be of benefit to everyone involved.
All the best,