For parents whose children qualify as Gifted and Talented, there is often a debate as to what classroom setting will best meet their child’s needs. A GT classroom? A standard classroom? When my daughter tested into the gifted program in her district, I was very torn. As a parent, I have conflicting feelings about GT classrooms. As an educator, I have strong feelings against them.
The Parent Perspective
As a mother, I have always thought of GT classrooms as rather elitist. I think we’ve all known those parents who ramble relentlessly about their brilliant children. This mindset can transfer to the students as they realize they are a separate entity from the “other kids”. As children get older this exclusivity can lean toward bullying and making other children feel inadequate. Personally, I cannot abide by this behavior and the world certainly does not need more of it.
In addition, the potential pressure these classrooms can create concerns me. Children are generally people pleasers. Many have not yet learned intrinsic motivation; their main concern is making others proud. Gifted classrooms can beget competitiveness and self-esteem problems as students become more aware of test scores and who is performing at what level. For a child who is already a perfectionist, this can be an unhealthy road. As an example, my 4th-grade child’s teacher once told me that the other children saw her as “perfect”. While this might please some parents, it turned my stomach. Being seen as “perfect” in middle school is generally not a blessing personally or socially.
The Teacher Perspective
As an educator, I know that the dichotomy between gifted children and those in traditional classrooms can cheat everyone. It is a belief among educators that the best setting for children is one with a good blend of students; rich students, poor students, gifted students, struggling students, all benefit from contact with one another. This combination teaches children compassion and important social skills. Children learn to be helpers to those who are struggling. Children learn how to ask for help from those who are doing well. It makes classrooms and school settings less clique-ish. Being in a room with students who are ahead of the curve can actually improve the performance of those who are behind. Helping children who are having a hard time teaches the stronger students humility.
Another lesser-known issue is that gifted children are often what we call twice exceptional. In other words, it is not at all uncommon for children who are gifted in the academic realm to have difficulties with behavior and social skills. Developmentally speaking, it’s hard for the brain to develop academic, social and behavioral skills at the same rate; one usually wins out over the others. Furthermore, being gifted can isolate children at a young age thus feeding behavior issues. This can be a challenge for classrooms in several ways: it concentrates children with behavior challenges in one room, it’s hard for students who function well socially, and parents often don’t want their children exposed to what is seen as negative behavior.
So, what to do? The short answer: know your child, your school and the district. How do your children handle being around children with behavior challenges? Do they find it frustrating? Are they likely to get hooked into such behavior or can they be a good example? How does the school approach behavior? Does the school have the policy to minimize any bullying that might stem from such competitiveness? How would the district serve your child if you chose not to place them in a GT classroom? Make sure to consider what social repercussions could be for your child. Would they have a hard time adjusting and making new friends?
What did I decide? My daughter has been in a GT classroom for three years now. My child is a strong-willed leader by nature. She makes friends easily and is fine being alone as well. Many of her friends also qualified for GT. While the school district is required by law to meet the needs of gifted students in our state of Colorado, I was concerned about the amount of time she would spend in pull-out sessions in a standard classroom in order to have her needs met. Finally, I know the school. I know how behavior is managed. I know the teachers and how diligently they work on social skills and inclusiveness which made me less concerned about elitist behavior. In the end, you know your child best. You can reach out to their teachers about where your child’s best fit would be. If worse comes to worst, classrooms can always be changed. Most importantly, remember that any decision you make with good intention is likely to lead to success for your child. For more information about the laws and policies that protect gifted students by state please see the following page: https://www.nagc.org/information-publications/gifted-state.