The Voice

I recently assigned a poetry project in my Advanced Language Arts class. Students had to find ten poems that had some significance to them either literal or figurative. I of course pre taught figurative language, stanzas, rhyme scheme, and how to interpret a poem. Then I let them have at the books of poems I grabbed from the library and poems they found online.  

The biggest part of this assignment was they had to reflect on why they chose a poem identifying it’s meaning to them and supporting that with techniques the author used to help with the meaning of the poem. This was like pulling teeth for some students because most students are not taught how to read and interpret poetry. They are simply given the poem and told how to identify parts of the poem or the figurative language. 

I personally love poetry and I write my own poems for fun. It’s an emotional outlet for me when I feel the need to scream, cry, yell, or just try to understand my own complex feelings. So when I teach this unit, I try to show students that poems are not just a jumble of words or weird paragraphs. I slow down in my teaching and really help them look at the poem on a deeper level. Students are in such a hurry to move onto the next thing and just have a straight answer in their school work, but I teach them how they can each have a different reaction to a poem. This drives some students insane, but my job is to teach them as humans we all have a different reaction to the things we read and we all bring something different to the table. 

Fast forward to grading these projects and I started to notice this poem by Shel Silverstein over and over again: 

Now just as a reminder I teach middle school students, so Silverstein’s poems are some of the more popular because they are easy to read, funny, and most kids can relate to what he is writing about. However, when I read their reflections for this poem I was impressed and amazed at what some of them had written: 

“I can relate to this poem because I feel like I  let other people’s words create the decisions I make. I feel like this is a bad trait to have but sometimes I can’t help it. This poem changed my perspective on how I look at the things I think compared to what other people think I should do. I have always been the insecure girl that lets people’s words get to her but I have come to realize that it won’t all be that bad if I just do what I think. In conclusion I think this is a very important poem because it could really teach people that they don’t need anyone else’s opinions on you.”

“No one besides you can make decisions for yourself.Only you can make your decisions because you know what’s best for you. This poem is about a voice telling you to do one thing, but you know deep down that you need to follow your heart and your mind. I have had this happen where someone is doing something that I don’t want to do, but  I feel like in order to fit in I should do it. I always follow my heart and know I shouldn’t do it though. In conclusion, I need to make decisions for myself and not listen to others’ opinions.”

“Sometimes the voice inside you is more powerful than your brain that tells you what’s wrong and right, or your parents advise. This poem is about how you sometimes have to stop listening to everyone else and start making decisions for yourself. I like the end rhyme and the imagery. I relate to this poem because sometimes I have to stop listening to everybody else and listen to what I am thinking. This poem makes me feel good inside because it is telling you a very important lesson. You have to consider what you are saying, not just take the advice of what everyone else is saying.” 

And this one is from a kid who I know has some of their own demons they are working on, but is starting to succumb to them: (edited)

 “I picked this poem because the message of it is about your conscience and I feel I have a very strong conscience. This poem is about your conscience and to listen to it…I also liked how the author used quotation marks to make it seem like the person is aiming towards your conscience speaking…” 

So what is my point in sharing this with you? Our kids are crying out for help to listen to this voice and not be influenced by others or “the cool” thing to do type of people. They are wanting to find a way to listen to their own subconscious when it comes to decision making. Yet, I know for a fact the last student lets the pressures of bad influences get inside their head and causes them to make poor decisions. That students would rather have some sort of title as a “badass” than a “smart kid.” These students want and desire a way to make their own positive decisions for themselves, but they struggle because of all the noise happening outside their subconscious- sports, school, peers, social media, constant connection to people… 

How do we help our kids disconnect from the world outside of them and listen to what is going in their head? How can we as parents and teachers help them understand the weight of their decisions? It starts with teaching them executive functioning skills. We often don’t take the time to teach our students how to make decisions or slow down long enough to make a proper choice. As adults, we just make these decisions and we make a million decisions throughout our day. Our students don’t know how to do this because we haven’t explicitly taught them how to do this. We can start out with small decisions they need to make with us and then start to add in bigger decisions to help them really understand how to make a conscious decision regarding an activity, vacation, or consequence. 

I am not suggesting you sit down with your student and say, “Today we are going to make a decision. Step one…” I am suggesting you work through the problem of making a tough choice with them, allow them to use you as a soundboard and create an open line of communication. This will allow them to feel like they can come to you and open up about issues they are having with peers or at school, and it will allow them to practice make decisions in a safe place so if and when they are in a spot where they need to make a quick decision among peers they can be confident in doing that. 

Really what it comes down to is being present with our kids in moments when they are struggling. Let them know you are a safe place to fall when it comes to making decisions and looking at the influences in their world. 

Not Just Gifted at School

This post is special since a dear friend of mine wrote it. I asked her to write about her own experience as a parent of a gifted child to hopefully show you that you are not alone in your own journey.

It dawned on me one day that I wasn’t dealing with your typical average 3 year old. Here we are riding in the car, going to the store when my son speaks up from the back seat. “Mom, do you know what 3+4+2+1+3+2+4+3 equals?” I was driving so I didn’t spout off an answer right away, honestly I was curious what his response would be, and secretly I wouldn’t have been able to give him an immediate answer. Pretty quickly he says “I do, it is 22!” He said with such enthusiasm and delight. It was at that moment I knew this kid was going to give me a run for my money.

Outside of his love for numbers Tagen seemed like your typical little boy. He loved playing outside, loved the be with friends and family. You often hear of the social disconnect some gifted children have, only really relating to those much older than themselves. That wasn’t something I really ever noticed with my kiddo. What I did notice was the emotional variations. Some days we were great about things, then the next day those same activities would throw him into a spiral. At a young age he was always very much about things being fair. If his friend got to pick their seat it was only fair that he also got that same privilege. Or if his sister got to stay up past her bedtime by 10 minutes, then it was only fair that he got to stay up 10 extra minutes as well. Regardless of the circumstances, things have to be “fair”.

Thankfully the academics haven’t been an issue for Tagen, he will get his homework done, doesn’t usually fight it, and very seldom needs my help. Socially we have worked a bit more to be accepting of others differences in abilities and know that life isn’t always fair and you won’t always get the same things those around you get. This proved to be most difficult during 3rd and 4th grade so far. Tagen was extremely bored in class, had a few teachers who weren’t sure how to work with higher achieving kids, or strong willed boys. This lead to many trips to the principal’s office and me having her  number programed into my phone. My heart would sink every time I would see her number pop up. Not knowing what the issue was now. One day it was because he choose to draw a unicorn pooping out the math answer. He had finished answering the question with time to spare and used his artistic abilities to spice his white board up a bit. Needless to say his teacher wasn’t a fan and sent him right to the office. Sadly she was the only one who got to see the drawing, which was too bad, the kid has some talents in the art department. My question to the teacher, “Was his answer correct?” I don’t think she was a fan. There was another call from the office because Tagen was sitting at the bottom of the slide and wouldn’t move. A classmate tattled and rather than give a redirection the teacher sent him straight to the office. I was beginning to think this teacher had it out for my kid. Conferences during 3rd grade were rough as well, she could never seem to start them with anything nice to say. I was really starting to think I had a problem child in the making, and as a teacher myself, wasn’t about to take that lying down. I reached out to some other teachers from the past and they assured me he wasn’t the issue. It was simply that his current teacher hadn’t take the time to really get to know him and his quirks and tailor to his needs.

Now 4th grade was a bit better, the gifted specialist for his school really stepped in to help that teacher out with those boys in her room who needed the challenge. We still saw some behaviors, he did get suspended for fighting that year. Again, he believes things need to be fair, and it was only fair that he push the kid back because he was pushed. Needless to say we have had several conversations about expressing ourselves when we feel things are not fair. And again about things won’t always be the same for everyone. Tagen is in 5th grade this year and has really matured. I think it helps that they chose to move him up to 6th grade math, he is feeling more of the challenge and the teacher has taken the time to get to know him.

I know it isn’t the same for all gifted children, they all have their quirks and vices. Tagen will hopefully always be interested in learning, just leaving us with the emotional end to work more on at home. He is discovering what he is passionate about, and to my husband’s dismay it isn’t sports all that much. You just never know what to expect, and that is true for all kids regardless of their academic ability. As parents I feel like we need to support one another rather than compete over who has the more gifted or advanced child. Am I proud of him, you bet your sweet booty I am. I try not to go overboard however, I don’t want to create that monster child who thinks that just because he is gifted he is the best. I ask him daily what is one thing he failed at. He thinks I’m crazy but he is also learning that it is okay to fail at things, what matters is how you come back and respond.

Raising children is tough no matter what, raising a gifted child will bring a whole new level of soul searching. There are so many days I feel like I can’t offer him what he needs. Then I remember, he needs a mom who will give him unconditional love no matter what, a parent who will have those hard conversations with him and a role model of how to fail with grace and dignity then get back up and go at it again. Let’s take care of one another and remember, we are sending the next generation of leaders out into the world.