Jun
09

Kids Know What Matters

Filed Under (thinking) by on June 9, 2010

We’re placing kids in classrooms for next year right now. It’s a process gone through in multiple schools and classrooms in America in multiple ways. I hate this process, every June, for this reason: Gifted kids need to be placed carefully, based on researched needs, and most teachers not only don’t know this research, but they also don’t pay attention to those who do. EVERY year, I am asked by my principal to make recommendations about gifted kids’ placements.  EVERY year my principal tells the teachers in my buildings to listen to my recommendations or talk to me about why. EVERY year, I can count on several grades to ignore whatever I suggest–and then the next school year, I get to deal with parent and kid nervousness about having no friends in the classroom, or not being with an appropriate group of thinkers, or not being with the math group they were with the year before, or… you get the picture.

We deal with these social emotional needs in a variety of ways. . . sometimes we switch classes for the kids, sometimes it’s a matter of alerting the teacher and supporting her/him as s/he attempts to help the child make new friends and sometimes the child actually ends up going to a private school. My question is why not avoid this grief in the first place?

There are certain kids who simply need a different approach because they think differently. (I would argue there are many more than we acknowledge, but some are resilient enough to put up with the crap we call school.)

I recently got a thank you note from one of my kids. (I’ve cleaned up the misspellings.)

Dear Ms. White

Thank you for a great year. I appreciate every thing that you did for me and I hope that we can see each other next year. Thank you for helping me with my wiki and helping me with Spinc Industreys. You have really helped make my company known. Thank you for being a great teacher for me. You are the only teacher I have had that understands the message that I am trying to give. Thank you for letting me come over for lunch and recess with my friend Alex. Thank you for ideas for my website and other things like programs. You have helped me do lots of things by helping me along the way.

Thank you for answering the questions that I had and helping me think of new questions. Thank you for taking me to things like meetings. Thank you for telling me what’s going on so that I know what’s happening and not treating me like a normal student, instead you talk about things that a normal homeroom teacher wouldn’t.

I like that you talk about other things besides just one thing like most teachers do. You talk about the oil spill and you relate math with it and make things more fun than some teacher would have made them. Instead of giving us worksheets you let us do it on our iPods.  You also let us understand things about SOLs so that we know what’s going to happen instead of normal teachers that just give you the test and you do not know what is going to be in the test.

I like that you are not strict about websites and let us go to youtube and other things like that. You are a teacher that can trust me and other students. You are good at making a first impression also, when I first went into your class I thought all the work was going to be hard but when I walked in we were all setting up websites and telling us about what the year ahead of us is going to be like, I think that is a good way of making a first impression.

Thank you for making this year the best year of my life.

Three sentences stand out to me:

  1. Thank you for being a great teacher for me.
  2. You are the only teacher I have had that understands the message that I am trying to give.
  3. Thank you for making this year the best year of my life.

I just pray that he gets a teacher next year in middle school that can let him soar as he did this year. I just pray he can make the connections he so desperately seeks and so desperately needs.

The fact is, some kids NEED a certain kind of teacher, and they need a peer group that will accept them. They think so differently they often have-shall I say–reduced social skills.  They don’t know HOW to make those connections for themselves. They don’t know how to NOT be brilliant in every conversation. They don’t know HOW to turn off that active brain. They don’t know HOW to inhibit the reactions (eye rolls, sighs, faces) they have when someone says something they KNOW to be wrong. Other kids see them as “weird” or “strange” or “not smart” because they don’t act like “normal” kids do–so they are often ostracized, which makes their need to be accepted even more crucial.

They need a teacher who can coach them in those skills AND accept them for who they are. They need a teacher who can help the other kids see their strengths and what they have to offer the community. The kid who wrote that letter was lucky this year–he had a classroom teacher who liked and honored him and he had me. Between the two of us, he went from being on the outskirts socially to being accepted as one of the smartest kids in the class who could teach other kids how to create web sites. He was the originator of the boy’s group who came to my room every day for recess and lunch to geek out–and the group grew throughout the year. He became a leader, partially because his classroom teacher empowered and honored him and partially because I did. It was a great fit and he made some good friends this year.

So why do teachers ignore my suggestions? Do they not recognize the need for these “odd ducks” to be able to blossom into beautiful swans? Do they not understand the social issues that surround being a really smart kid in schools and the need to have other smart kids you connect to with you?

I just wish teachers would ask the kids sometimes.  They can tell you how important it is to have at least one connection in a classroom. They can tell you how left out they feel sometimes.

So here’s another note I got:

I searched {for my wiki} in google, and found many of my pages not just on twitter, but on blogs, etc.. When I got my wiki, i never expected it to become this popular. I have to catch up on some reviews, but just wanted to say thanks for being a great teacher this year, and for making my wiki well known.
Then, I got this one a day or so later form the same kid:
subject: Apple releases
the iphone 4, and I think the next step for them is to put those features on the ipad (maybe not all of them). Check out this link for more: http://www.apple.com/iphone/?sr=hotnews.rss I just wanted you to know that, and that you are the best teacher I ever had. :)
So I wrote back:
I’m curious—best because I taught you, or best because I let you learn?   :-)
and he responded:
Best, because you let me learn what I want to learn. I really enjoyed that,and wish that schools would do that, too Best, because you let me learn what I want to learn. I really enjoyed that,
and wish that schools would do that, too

I searched {for my wiki} in google, and found many of my pages not just on twitter, but on blogs, etc.. When I got my wiki, i never expected it to become this popular. I have to catch up on some reviews, but just wanted to say thanks for being a great teacher this year, and for making my wiki well known.

Then, I got this one a day or so later from the same kid:

subject: Apple releases

the iphone 4, and I think the next step for them is to put those features on the ipad (maybe not all of them). Check out this link for more:http://www.apple.com/iphone/?sr=hotnews.rss I just wanted you to know that, and that you are the best teacher I ever had. :)

So I wrote back:

I’m curious—best because I taught you, or best because I let you learn?   :-)

and he responded:

Best, because you let me learn what I want to learn. I really enjoyed that, and wish that schools would do that, too.

Dang, why don’t we let ALL kids connect deeply and learn things THEY are passionate about more often??  Why don’t we show that we understand it’s the HUMAN connections that are powerful. . .and that make kids remember things. They may not, as the saying goes, remember the content I taught, but they WILL remember how I made them feel.







6 Responses to “Kids Know What Matters”

  1.   Soccerchick Says:

    I agee. Some teachers do not listen to recommendations. Some kids need to be placed in special situations to make them feel wanted and have that since of wanting to be liked. They need a teacher that will let them express themselves and not be made fun of by others. There are “special kids” in this world and we need to listen to their needs.

  2.   Kimberly Tharp Says:

    An answer???

    You are tackling the job of recommending class placements from one angle only: what decision is in the best interest of the child concerned? You ask why teachers ignore the recommendations you make. I propose that they are placing students in a manner that creates the best classroom composition for the TEACHER. Rather than focusing on the research you mentioned, or the specific social and developmental needs of the student, teachers are “balancing out” the classrooms based on numbers of students who are discipline problems, low achievers, high achievers, and those who require accommodations for remediation or enrichment. Perhaps the convenience of the teacher is taking a higher priority than the needs of the students. It is disturbing to see that accusation written in black and white, but I fear that is more the norm than we like to believe. I have never had the privilege of teaching recognized gifted students, but I am thrilled to read about a teacher who understands their needs and strives to meet them. Thank you for working so hard to see that each child is placed in a classroom in which they can “soar”.

    I am a student at the University of South Alabama participating in Dr. John Strange’s EDM 310 class.
    http://www.edm310.blogspot.com/

    I will be summarizing my responses in a post to my blog on June 30.
    http://www.tharpkimberlyedm310.blogspot.com/

    Thank you for the insights you have shared.

  3.   Paula White Says:

    Kimberly,
    You have some very sharp insights. It gladdens me that you recognize that many school decisions are made for the comfort or ease of the adults. As you enter your own classroom, how will you work to avoid that and not allow your peers to do so?

    Thanks for participating here.
    Paula

  4.   Kimberly Tharp Says:

    Paula,
    That is the question I am asking myself repeatedly this summer. How do I avoid the trap of complacency? I know the desire to be excellent as a teacher is within me. Taking Dr. Strange’s EDM class this summer has opened a new world of resources to me. I never considered the worldwide community of educators that are discussing and initiating changes and improvements through the internet. My plan is to first keep myself immersed in educational developments and trends, rather than waiting for a seminar or conference to introduce me to new ideas. Secondly, I hope to draw in a few of my fellow teachers, that together we can follow blogs, have meaningful discussions, and initiate change in our small school. Will it work?

  5.   James Marshall Says:

    I really liked this article, it helped me see the importance of helping the students all make a friend in the class, and bonding as a team. I think working together on different projects that are fun, and using the computer will help in this area. Thanks for your post. Edm 310 class link http://www.edm310.blogspot.com/ and my personal blog http://marshalljamesedm310.blogspot.com/

  6.   Paul Marley Says:

    As always, a pleasure reading your blog. A very well written and informative post. Thank you for sharing.

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