Making Friends- The Struggle of Gifted Teens

I am often asked about how parents can help facilitate and encourage friendships for their gifted child. This is a hard topic to really dive into without some confusion or offending what parents have done to help facilitate friendships. 

Here is the thing (and take this as you will) we can’t expect our children to be friends with everyone their age. As adults, we aren’t friends with everyone that is our same age and we aren’t always getting along with our peers. However, we do need to teach our gifted children appropriate ways to interact with the same age peers and how to be accepting of their peers. It’s a life skill. 

Let’s start with some clarification on the difference between “agemate” and “peer”. If you have a 10-year-old with the intellect of a 13-year-old, you will find that they have very little in common with their “peers”. The flip side of it is that this same 10-year-old might be able to have engaging conversations with older children or adults. This is a distinction that Jim Delisle refers to as “agemate”. An “age mate” is someone who shares your chronological age, whereas a “peer” is someone you interact with because you have common interests or ideas regardless of age. Delisle simply puts it this way, “When you, as an adult, are hosting a party, do you call people first and ask them how old they are? How absurd! The same is true for gifted children: they use common interests and intellect as the barometers of social engagement.” 

Sometimes there is the concern about advancing a child into a class with older peers. Often the concern is the younger student won’t be accepted by their age mates or their peers. They actually do quite well. Older peers will let the younger student know if a behavior is not appropriate and this actually helps advance the gifted child in their social skills. 

A key thing to keep in mind,gifted students gravitate to other gifted children that are their same age – like a magnet. Some students feel isolated before they are identified as gifted, so once they are in classes with gifted age mates they feel like they belong. “Water seeks its own level… and so does intellect”- Jim Delisle 

Highly Gifted Children/Teens and Friends 

When it comes to our highly gifted children, there is a correlation that some settings will be less than optimal for their socialization and emotional needs. In a study by Hollingworth, they noted gifted students with an IQ over 160 tend to internalize any social/emotional issues they are having. Gifted students look mature and adjusted on the outside, they are actually experiencing feelings like loneliness, isolation, and peer difficulties. The most difficult age for this is seen between the ages of four to nine. 

One of the contributing factors for this is the child might be struggling to develop to the mental age of their peers in those early years. Now remember our definition of peer is someone you interact with because you have common interests or ideas regardless of age. This means that there is a big difference between social and cognitive development. So the child may be less mature than an age peer, yet far ahead intellectually. 

One way to work on this with these highly gifted children is help them understand how to initiate and participate in an activity in progress. This is hard for these children because they are unsure of how to reciprocate the relationship with age mate peers; especially in the early years. Create ways to help your child learn how to approach or initiate an activity with age mate  peers are interested in. You can do this through role play at home or even practice at a local park they feel comfortable at. This will allow them to try something new with peers and start to  work on forming those bonds of friendship. 

Tips of Keeping and Making Friends

The Gifted Teen Survival Guide  focuses on peer relationships for gifted teens and young adults, but a lot of these tips apply to young gifted children as well. 

  1. Reach out
    • Practice saying “hello” or smiling when in public. Simple gestures go a long way  
  2. Find ways to get involved 
    • Help your child find activities that would interest them, try to find above grade level activities. 
  3. Share interests with others that express similar interests 
    • Gifted children tend to focus on only what they like and have a hard time deviating away from those interests. Practice with your child on how to ask questions about a peer or age mate’s interests. 
  4. Be a good listener
    • Show your child how to look at others when they are listening, help them learn how to pay attention to what others are saying in a conversation 
  5. Risk sharing about yourself
    • Help your child learn how to express their interests in, their talents, and how to advocate for those things in the classroom. 
  6. Don’t show off
    • There is telling others about your abilities and then there is bragging. Make sure you also help your child learn to appreciate and accept the abilities and talents of others too. 
  7. Be honest 
    • Help your child tell the truth about what they believe in and what they stand for, but help them learn to be sincere in their honesty. 
  8. Be Kind 
    • The truth doesn’t have to hurt. Help your gifted child to be tactful in their honesty and their sharing. 
  9. Avoid using your friends as a sounding board for problems
    • Help your child include others in the good times, too. No one likes to be used only when someone needs something from us. Our children need to know that they can have friendships for all of their good and bad times. 
  10. Do your share of the work 
    •  You need to help your child learn how to make some of the plans and make decisions for play dates, but they also need to learn how to be open to new ideas or activities. 
  11. Be accepting 
    • Not all of your friends have to think and act like you. Gifted children/teens/ adults have a really hard time with this. We need to show our children how to accept and value others for who they are rather than shunning them for being different. We are all different! Embrace it! 

And finally- the most important of all: 

  1. Learn to recognize the so-called friends you can do without. 
    • You have to help your child recognize genuine friendships versus disingenuous friendships. Our children want friends so badly sometimes that they are willing to put up with people who treat them poorly. One way to have the conversation with your student is to ask them how they feel after being around them. This simple question will help them analyze their feelings towards friends if they are struggling to feel valued by others. 

In the end… 

As parents, it is common to struggle when you feel like your children aren’t making or maintaining friendships. There is a tendency to worry about what is wrong with your child or if you taught them well. As a parent, I have to remind myself I have done the best I can and I am always going to be there to help them when they are unsure or fail. 

Give yourself some grace. Try to use some of these ideas with your child and if all else fails just try to role play different scenarios with your child. 

Finding the Little Joys in Teaching During Remote Learning

We are in a hybrid model this year – one day a week we are all online. The whole month of December we were fully remote, and it seems like our one day a week online is miserable to them now that we are back to some in-person learning. I think there is a dread of sitting in front of the computer all day long without being able to socialize with peers hanging over their heads. There has been a lack of joys in teaching this year.

Little Joys Exisit

Today, in one of my classes we got on the topic of weird food combos. (I have no idea how we got here- it’s middle school.) So, I asked my students: What’s the weirdest food combo you have tried or seen?

Here are their responses:

We can choose to bring joy into our remote classes. Our students need it, and so do we. Find the little joys in a crummy situation.
  • – Ketchup and Eggs
  • – Cornchips and Nutella
  • – Chips and Chocolate
  • – French Fries and Ice Cream
  • – Pizza and Ketchup
  • – Pineapple and cottage cheese
  • – Pretzels with ketchup
  • – Mac and cheese with ketchup (I am noticing a theme here.)
  • – Steak and Ketchup
  • – Yogurt and chips
  • – Cookies and salsa 

And the best one?

A student said their dad likes syrup on noodles 

I had to ask, “Is your dad Buddy the Elf?!”

This is just one of the little joys that made my day. 

However, I am hoping that these small moments of off-topic conversation and laughter bring a smile to their face throughout our virtual day attached to the computer. I know the moments where we go off-topic to see everyone’s pets or talk about random things makes my day go a little smoother and feel a little lighter. 

Finding the Little Joy in Online Learning

There are other teachers who will send their kids on a scavenger hunt to find something so the students can get up and out of their chairs for just a minute. Our student council is running a food drive, and one teacher had their students turn off their cameras to grab a can and bring it back to encourage helping out a good cause. 

Our students need some of these little joys, conversations or connections, and games during this time. It is encouraging to me to see teachers trying to make the best of it regardless of hybrid, remote, in-person, or completely virtual. We should be building relationships with our students during this and it is one way to keep getting to know our students and have fun with them even when they aren’t in the room with us physically. 

While we head into the second semester, I want to encourage all of us to keep building those relationships with our students. Keep reaching out and making interactions fun. It can mean the world to one student to be able to have a little joy-filled moment to hold onto for the rest of the day.  Keep finding the little joys in teaching this year.

Forget About 2020, Just Hold onto Its Lessons

Bring on 2021

With the new year and the hurry to forget about 2020, we are all surrounded by new years resolutions, diets, exercise programs, learning opportunities… and the list goes on and on. 

This past year has been a struggle for all of us. None of us were unaffected by the virus. 

Students and teachers across the nation have had to rethink how they approach learning, schedules, teaching, and technology almost overnight. It hasn’t been easy, but we did it. We survived. 

Surviving not Thriving

I wish I could say that we all thrived as much as we had hoped we would in 2020, but I know many of us haven’t. It’s been a fight to stay on top of the constant changes, keeping the fear of the rug being pulled out from under us at bay, and the elevated anxieties below the surface. 2020 has messed us up. A lot. 

So, I want to encourage you to reflect on the things you did this year you never thought you could do. Look back at the start of the school year- you learned new online platforms, digitized lessons plans, created interactive lessons to keep students engaged in online meetings… 

Students have stepped up to the plate to learn in a new way- remote, hybrid, online. Students learned new time management, planning, and tech skills. Students have also learned the importance of self-care and connection with others.

Now, what for 2021?

This year has shown us a lot- good and bad. Yet, we have managed to make it to the end of the year stronger than when we started. 

I am not sure what 2021 will bring, but I do know that 2021 is getting a completely different people than any of us have been before. Let’s use 2021 to help hone in on the strength we gained from 2020. This time, the New Year is going to be a year of continued training of our strengths so even when we hit another wall we know we can run right through it. 

So let’s forget 2020 and continue to hold onto it’s lessons it taught us in 2021.

Remote Learning Well-Being

We have been remote learning for a few weeks now and I gotta say, I am definitely over it. The students are too. 

Although there have been some positives coming out of remote learning and I am grateful for any tiny sliver of hope. As we wrap up the semester, my students have come up with innovative ways to share their genius hour presentations and they are learning podcasting with grace. For my other students, I am just glad they decided to sign onto the google meet. 

Something happened last week that really struck a chord with me. One of my top students snapped at me about his book group. He knows I am willing to discuss and hear them out on just about everything if they disagree. So when he copped an attitude with me I was stunned. 

The next day I received an apology email from him, unprompted. I wrote him back and accepted his apology, but I asked him if he was ok since this was uncharacteristic of him. He told me, “It was just ‘a wrong side of the bed type of day,’ and I think not having anyone around while I am home is hard. Everyone else seems to have siblings or parents that work from home. It’s getting old.” 

Gosh, that struck me about our (teacher and students) wellbeing during this remote learning. 

After having to quarantine twice this year, I recognized when I started to slip into a funk I needed to pause and check in with myself on how I was really feeling: Had I gone outside for a walk? Did I eat junk all day? How’s my water intake? Have I  talked to someone on the phone/facetime? Have I done something that I enjoy? 

Majority of the time I had answered negatively to those questions, meaning I hadn’t been really taking care of myself mentally and physically. I strongly encourage you to check in with yourself using the above checklist. 

Run through it in times of high anxiety or sadness. This isn’t easy for any of us. We are built as social creatures and while a computer screen with people on a call is ok, it’s not the same. 

These next three weeks are going to be a challenge for us as teachers and our students. Let’s do our best to keep an eye out for each other. 

Teacher Parents

Today I’m struggling. Today I’m trying to manage my kindergartner while teaching my middle school classes. I’m trying to be the best teacher I can be while also trying to be a parent. I’m almost in tears as I write this because while I’m teaching online, my daughter is sitting there frustrated because she’s trying to figure out what to do next for her meeting. But I also need my job. 

So today, I struggle with:  A. Do I be a parent and help my daughter learn and be successful? Or B. Do I tell her to wait while she cries in frustration while I teach my students to the best of my ability? This isn’t an easy job, it’s impossible. A lot is being asked of us and I will gladly do it for my students and I’ll gladly do it for my own daughter. I’ll do it for the safety of the rest of the school, my staff, but please understand that when a school goes fully remote we don’t get free time. Especially parents who are teachers. We get the additional worry of making sure our own students at home are learning plus attempting to understand what’s being asked of them regardless of their age. 

This year has been a challenge for all of us educators, parents, and students alike. This year is especially different given that all of the expectations have changed, and consistently continue to change since March when we attempted remote learning the first time.  

While we have been fighting hard to keep our students in school and keep them among their peers and learning at a rigorous rate; when you’re thrown into quarantine twice in a matter of weeks and then your daughter (children) are quarantine on top of going fully remote for a week before a long holiday break, you start to lose your patience. You lose your patience with parents who demand that we keep kids in school regardless of the numbers, risk, safety. You lose your patience with the students who are coming to school sick. You lose your patience when kids are being tested for this virus over and over and over again and still, being sent to school only to quarantine a whole group of their peers and teachers. 

My question is how is this fair? How is this fair to our teachers or parents? I don’t know that there’s a right answer for any of it and the frustrating part is that I wish I had a solution and I don’t. 

I’m coming to you today as a parent who has been in quarantine twice. 

I’ve missed out on family time with members outside my immediate household since September, my girls haven’t seen their grandparents since then, and shortly after I was put in quarantine my daughter was put in quarantine. She’s a kindergartner. She’s now having to do her learning at home on a tablet. Thank God she has an amazing teacher who is patient and willing to explain all of the steps and tools and expectations that she needs to do at home while managing 14 other kindergartners on a screen. This quarantine threatens our Thanksgiving, our traditions, our needs. Next, quarantine will threaten our Christmas. 

I’ve been told by several parents that it’s important that we keep our kids in school, it’s important for their mental health. Yes, I 100% agree. However, you have to also consider the fact that the teachers are human too and we need to be able to spend time with our families. When a sick child is sent to school or waiting on a Covid test, you’re risking taking away time for that teacher to spend with their family. I’ve been looked at as essential personnel this year. I have now gotten a glimpse at how essential personnel are currently being treated.  We’re treated as if we’re not doing enough. As if we aren’t taking any risk every day when all we really do is go to work and come home to our families. I was even told that I have more free time now that I’m at home, teaching online, not only by a student but also a parent. It’s frustrating to see that we are still thought of so little as educators even though in the spring we were more than needed and maybe finally feeling appreciated. 

It’s also frustrating when at the beginning of the year so many parents wanted us to be in school and thought that we weren’t doing enough even when we started school. I don’t know if there’s a happy middle ground. I don’t know that there’s a solution, but I do know that this week alone has taught me how undervalued and under appreciated I feel as a teacher who is also a parent of a student having to deal with quarantine over and over again. 

This by far has been the hardest year of my teaching career. I feel like a first year teacher when it comes to online learning in all my attempts at keeping my students engaged. Trying to keep students willing to participate for 40 minutes at a time, while we’re expecting the students to have enough motivation to last online all day is extremely hard. It’s also wearing, on me and on them. I’m exhausted at the end of the day, even though it may seem like I’ve done nothing but sit all day. My muscles ache from the lack of movement. My heart hurts from not being able to see my students in person. I am proud to say that the majority of my students have adapted well to hybrid learning and moving to remote education. But there are others who don’t have the support at home. There are others who refuse to get online for a 40 minute class. There are a lot of kids that have already checked out. I’m not sure how to bring them back in. I’m uncertain how to get them to care, because I honestly understand, it’s hard to care about something when your teachers are on a screen. It’s hard to care about something when you’re required to stare at a computer all day. 

Letting Go of Expectations

We are well into the start of the school year. Things may or may not have slowed down. Stress levels may be even higher than they were before the start of the year or they may have remained the same. 

I always learn something new every year about myself and how to be a better teacher. Usually, this takes about 4 months into the year or even until the end of the year for me to realize what I’ve learned. This year I have to pause and reflect on the work that I am doing much earlier than expected: 

  • What is working? 
  • What format do we use for assignments? 
  • How do we let students know about work? 
  • What about parents? 
  • How do we keep track of what class is doing what? 
  • What day is it? 
  • Who am I? 
  • Am I sure I want to do this for a career? 

These questions are accompanied this year with a lot of frustrations, fears, anxieties, anger, and tears. (Wine too) All before school even started, I questioned staying in my job A LOT! I wasn’t trained to teach this way: hybrid model, masks on, virtually, students on computers all the time… The whole process has been confusing and nerve wracking; even before it started. 

During our training we did an activity where we looked at our expectations in a new way. We took a cup of various colored paint and a plain white canvas and were told that these two things represent our expectations for the year. The cup of paint was filled with various colors to represent all of our expectations- in person learning, no masks, perfect lesson plans, students that listen – (we can wish right?) – all perfectly contained in this little cup. We were then told to take the cup and dump it in the middle of the canvas, move the paint around until the whole canvas was covered.

It was messy. It wasn’t an “art” we are used to. We had to let go of the rigidity of our perfect expectation in a cup and let them go where they wanted to go. The results were stunning. The marbled look of the different colors blended together, yet still having distinct boundaries was amazing. When the canvas was dry, we were all amazed at the work of art we created by just letting go of the control and seeing where the paint ended up. Some teacher’s looked like galaxies, others glaciers with various colors of ice, there were some sunsets, and even a few that resembled the rock formations at Arches National Park. 

The point of this exercise is an obvious one. However, it has taught me a lesson early this year about my own abilities as a teacher when I reflect on the start of the year. 

It has taught me that I can still have the structure in my classroom I know my students need, but it also allows me to be flexible in the structure I use to help my students learn. It has taught me there is a tried and true way of doing things, and while change is hard, sometimes it brings out some of the best teaching and learning. It has taught me there is beauty in this struggle, and the outcome is going to be amazing regardless of the hard things. 

So take a breath, we got this. As teachers we may not have been trained on teaching online, but we were trained to adapt and be prepared for anything. Find the beauty in this mess of a school year, I promise it’s there, even on the hard days.

The Pressure of a Label

When we label kids, it often becomes their identity through and through. This is hard when they are younger because their not given a choice. 

A label can dictate who they are friends with, the things they are interested in, the work ethic they have. This label tells teachers what to think about them before they even meet your kid. Many times this label can make or break a kids school career. 

So why do we try so hard to label students? Well, there are a lot of kids who need to have specific needs met in order to be able to function in society after high school. This allows schools to help better prepare future generations. These labels help more than they hurt. (Majority of the time) 

When a child is labeled as gifted in the second grade (more than likely that is when they were first identified) teachers are asked to help these students grow into their already big brains and wit. While some teachers are able to foster this and help a gifted child grow, there are some who unfortunately just continue to teach to the middle of the road or the low end because “Every child is gifted.” 

Parents of gifted kids, you know every child is special in their own way, but a gifted child…. That is a whole different animal. 

 The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted children as such: 

“Students with gifts and talents perform – or have the capability to perform – at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. They require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Student with gifts and talents: 

• Come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata. 

• Require sufficient access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential. • Can have learning and processing disorders that require specialized intervention and accommodation.

 • Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their areas of talent.

 • Require varied services based on their changing needs.”

This definition alone shows that gifted children are very different from their peers and need to be treated as such. So when this label is tacked onto a student they are looked at as if they should be performing better and above their peers academically. This is all well and good until teachers and parents forget that their child is still just an eight year old who is capable of doing pre-algebra. Teachers and some parents tend to forget that while their child might be capable of higher level academics, their emotional needs and social needs are still that of an eight year old. 

We can expect them to understand big adult emotions or high level emotions because they just aren’t there yet in their brain. A big reason we tend to think that they can handle these emotions is because they are functioning at a high level and we assume that they are able to handle it. Most of the time they aren’t. Teachers and parents need to be aware of the emotional load their students can and cannot handle. They are dealing with a lot of social/ emotional experiences and needs already. 

Students who are gifted struggle with being gifted and being different from their friends. They struggle not being in classes with their same age peers. They worry about being too smart. They worry about looking different. They worry about getting perfect grades, scores, and excelling at homework. Then you add in the peer groups, relationship drama and ever changing hormones. There is no way they can understand the raw emotions of a psychological thriller movie or the roller coaster of sensations experienced when watching the news everyday. 

Watch what you are exposing them to. They may appear that they can handle it based on their intellectual ability, but they are more likely to have a melt down emotionally. Parents and teachers need to keep this in mind when it comes to school work too. Make sure the assignment is still emotionally appropriate for your kids. Never let the pressure of being labeled gifted cloud your judgement on if they can handle the material on a social/emotional level. 

Social-emotional needs of gifted, why their needs are different.

Gifted children have so many needs when it comes to their academics. 

  • Are they being challenged in the right way? 
  • Are they allowed to think creatively? 
  • Do teachers allow gifted students to suggest an alternative assignment? 
  • How do we know if they are at the correct level of challenge that they need? 

The list can go on and on. 

While we may worry about the academics of our gifted students, they have very different needs when it comes to their social emotional needs. Many parents that I have had contact with are always worried about their students social life, emotional needs, and ability to communicate their needs to others. 

These are very valid concerns to have when you have a gifted child. Often, gifted students have a hard time communicating with peers their same age because they can’t hold a conversation about football or tv shows since they are busy working on coding a new game or collecting bugs to analyze. Sometimes gifted children look down on their peers because they can’t hold an intellectual conversation with kids their own ages, so they gravitate to adults and their conversations. 

The problem with this is while they might be able to partake in the discussion, it doesn’t mean they can cope with the emotions that conversation may bring up for them later. As adults, we have probably been talking about COVID-19 a lot in front of our children without really understanding how this might impact them emotionally. (Or we have the news on in the morning and just let it play while they eat breakfast.) Our kids, gifted or not, are absorbing this information, but they don’t know how to process it emotionally. My five year old is constantly asking about the virus and why I have to wear a mask in the store. She sees it and knows something isn’t right, but cannot understand emotionally why something is wrong. We are now dealing with being afraid of the dark and watching the Storybots episode on viruses on repeat to assure her that our bodies know how to keep us safe and healthy. So while she understands the conversations and asks questions, she still has the emotional capacity of a five year old. 

Even as an educator, I forget sometimes that gifted kids are still just kids. I work on processing big things with my gifted students when I can tell they are having a hard time with something going on in our world or our school. I allow them to ask me questions and I do my best to answer them. I do my best to create a safe place for them to express their emotions and interact with their peers on that level. 

My advice for parents is this: Set up playdates with kids their own age and encourage conversation through a game or toys. This allows them to be a kid still and learn that they can interact with kids their own ages. I would also encourage you to have conversations with them about how they should respond in different situations through demonstrating with dolls (or if you have an older gifted kid, just a scenario conversation.) Talk through different scenarios you have witnessed or teachers say they have witnessed with your student and how they interact with peers. For example: “Let’s pretend we are at the park. Your friend is there and wants to ride their bike, but you just want to sit on the swings longer and talk about bugs. Your friend starts to get mad and walks away. What should you do to be a good friend?” Now your kid may be fine with a friend’s reaction like that, but we want to encourage them to think about what would be a socially acceptable response. We would help guide them to answer something like, “I would go and see if my friend was ok and take time to ride my bike with them since we did what I wanted for a while.” Oftentimes we have to slow it down for the kids so they can see where the mistake was made and how to correct it. 

When it comes to their emotional needs, you know your student best. If your gifted child is acting out or acting out of the ordinary, there may be an underlying emotional need that needs to be addressed. Take time out of your day at night before tucking them in to ask them how they are feeling about their day, an event, or something they may have heard that is impacting them. While our gifted children might be able to solve the most complex equations, they often can’t solve what their emotions are trying to tell them. They still need us to help them process those things even if those emotions might seem silly to us, they are very real to our kids. 

The biggest thing you can do for your gifted student or child is be present with them when they are having a hard time connecting with age appropriate peers or dealing with big emotions. Find out the best way to have them share and let them share.  This can be through play, through research, going for walks, horseback riding… Kids seem to be more apt to open up if they can be busy with something else as they talk. If they need someone else they trust to share with, then they help them get in touch with that person. A licensed child psychologist that is familiar with the needs of gifted students can help and do wonders for a kid because it’s someone they trust and not mom and dad telling them what to do. Like I said, the biggest thing you can do is be present with your kids in those moments and encourage them to keep trying to socialize with their same age group and express their big emotions when they can. 

Student Advocating Tools

It is often intimidating to speak with teachers about students learning to advocate for themselves. I get it. Even as an advocate for GT students I am intimidated to ask veteran teachers to come up with alternative assignments for students who need more of a challenge. The important thing to keep in mind is making sure you let the teacher know you appreciate the work they put into creating the assignment and you want to do the work for the grade, but would they be willing to work with you on a different level. 

If you let it be known that you are willing to partner with them to create the assignment and it will be able to be graded against an existing rubric, they will be more willing to consider it. (If not, then I would get in contact with the GT specialist in your building to help you work with this teacher.) 

The other thing to consider is to ask the teacher if you could take the tests to show you know the material. This way you can still get the credit for the class and not worry about not having enough credits to graduate (if you are in high school). The other reason you might consider asking the teacher if you can test out of a unit is so you can move into a class that is better suited for your ability level. The pro of this for the teacher is you won’t turn into a behavior issue later in class when you are bored. 🙂 

Sometimes in class you are inspired by a concept or theory where you want to dig a little deeper or create some sort of informational piece. When this happens, tell your teachers that you want to take a different approach and learn more in order to gain knowledge on the bigger picture. Ask the teacher if you can create your own assignment if you are inspired to look at the problem differently. It might be taking a concept or theme of a book and expanding on how it relates to our world today versus finding the theme of the book and supporting it with textual evidence. If you are artistic, ask if to create a piece that encompasses the overarching concept the teacher is wanting you to show along with a written explanation. 

Let’s tackle  probably the hardest situation. Let’s say you are given a baseline assignment at the end of a unit, and you think to yourself “This is a joke, I could do this in my sleep.” While it may be tempting to do the assignment in your sleep, you probably should ask your teacher for an assignment that makes you think. Ask the teacher if there is something more challenging you can complete rather than the baseline assignment in a polite way. Approach the teacher about the assignment and say something like, “I really like this assignment and I am wondering if it’s possible for me to do _______ for the assignment. I think it would add to me knowledge of the subject and provide me an opportunity to complete the project in a new way.”  If they agree, make sure that it doesn’t feel like more work. It should be something that challenges your thinking and your skills in that area rather than the generic assignment given to the rest of the class. (If it feels like more work, you need to say something.) 

Again the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to make sure you are polite about how you approach the situation and how you react to the teacher’s answer. While most schools or districts have a gifted and talented specialist, I want you to go to them as your last option. As a gifted student and eventually a gifted adult, you have to learn how to stick up for your needs now, because it gets much harder in the real world when people might think you are just being demanding or non-compliant. A GT specialist is there to help you, when you feel you’ve exhausted other options, and also to make sure you are getting the appropriate amount of challenge in your assignments – so use them when you have to.

Dear teacher…

I was going to save this for my first post in May, but this has been so very heavy on my heart that I couldn’t wait.

Dear teacher, 

I know you are there. Staring at the screen wondering if students will “show up” today. I know you know how to do this, but it is unknown. I know there is a doubt in your ability and if you can really call yourself a teacher anymore. 

There is a piece of the puzzle that is missing for you. This piece is at the core of why you do this thankless job day in and day out. You don’t feel like a teacher as you sit in your home office thinking about the chores to be done. The odd feeling of wanting to just watch Netflix in between meetings rather than sending out yet another email to connect with your students. 

And that’s just it… You are missing the connection. 

Connection of watching students understand concepts for the first time. Seeing their faces light up with “Oh, I get it now!” 

Connection of conversations being had that go so much deeper than your lesson plan. Realizing your students can have deep thoughts and questions when given the opportunity. 

The simple connection of taking daily attendance and being glad they made it to school today. Knowing they will get at least one hot meal, human interaction, and hopefully some laughter before they head home to an empty house. 

The grief you are feeling over this is ok. Be in that grief for a moment and mourn the loss of not getting to say, “Goodbye,” “Good luck,” “Have a great summer,” and “Congratulations.” You became a teacher to see your students off onto their next adventure and prepare them to take that next step. This year you won’t be able to do that… and it sucks beyond anything else. 

You pour out your life and soul for this job, and while the pay is terrible, the reward is seeing students succeed in the next phase of life. Student’s succeeding and thriving is your biggest payday. 

The simple fact is as a teacher we crave the connection with our students and it is at the core of what we do on a daily basis. Just because you have to miss out on this for the rest of the year, doesn’t mean you are no longer the teacher you thought you were. 

You can still kick ass at teaching online and make those connections with your students through the screen. 

You can be the person that gives them something to laugh about that day, and check in to see if they were able to get lunch from a drop off location. 

You can still tell them “Goodbye,” “Good luck,” “Have a great summer,” and “Congratulations.” As the year wraps up whether through a screen or a postcard.

You can still do your job and reach students. You can and I know you will. It’s what you were made to do. Don’t let this loss of identity as a teacher disappear. You’ve got this. Now, go be the teacher I know you are, your students are waiting. 

Sincerely, 

A fellow teacher