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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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Advice for Teachers Considering a Position in Gifted

 

I remember the first year I taught gifted kids. Wow, what a shocker! Going from teaching all types of students for several years to teaching 22 identified gifted students opened my eyes. I had a lot of adjusting to do. Accommodating the fast-moving learning pace. Realizing that gifted kiddos are not gifted at every subject. Responding positively to their unique social-emotional needs. Then, accepting a position as a resource teacher presented a whole new set of learning experiences. Collaborating with the general education classroom teacher. Not having your own classroom. Feeling like, at times, you are “fighting for time” with your gifted kids.

With the year coming to an end, I began reflecting on my experiences teaching the gifted, and I wondered what advice I would give those teachers wanting to take the leap. How should they prepare for the job? Are there any pitfalls or challenges they should avoid?  Here’s my best advice:

 

Gain Some Regular Classroom Experience

            Of course, this is my opinion, but I don’t recommend first-year teachers take a job working with the gifted. It can be overwhelming. A better strategy is to accept a position working in a general classroom, perhaps for a few years, which would allow you to focus on classroom management, lesson planning, and other teaching basics. From there, you have a better platform to operate from when beginning to work with more advanced or gifted children. With a feel for the basics, you can shift your focus to accommodating the needs of the gifted through enrichment and/or acceleration.

Know the Basics

Some states and school districts require teachers of the gifted to complete endorsement courses.  These courses address the basics of gifted education, including the academic and social needs of  gifted children, best practices, counseling, and working with special populations. It’s important to understand what has already been researched and discovered in the field and to gain a theoretical framework to serve as the basis of your craft. You need a strong grasp of the different gifted education approaches---enrichment, acceleration—and when and how to use them.

 

Rally Together with Like-Minded Teachers

            Teaching the gifted can be a lonely job, particularly if serving as resource teacher, perhaps the only teacher of gifted at the entire school.  If that is the case, you need to network with other teachers of the gifted. Attend professional development trainings focused on gifted education. Go to conferences. Get around those in the field.  This is critical for several reasons. To grow professionally, including exposure to new techniques and strategies for the gifted, you need to learn from others. Secondly, and even more importantly, you need the emotional fuel that comes from collaborating with like-minded individuals—those who also love enrichment projects, helping high-potential  students reach their goals, etc.

 

Read Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom by Susan Winebrenner

While there are many books on the market, Winebrenner’s book is one of my favorites. It takes a straight-forward approach to teaching gifted students in inclusion settings and provides a host of strategies and lessons to challenge them, including independent project ideas and enrichment ideas for various subjects. A must read for resource teachers.

 

Attend Confratute

Confratute stands for conference, fraternity, and institute. A week-long gifted education training, the brainchild of Dr. Joseph Renzulli and his wife, Dr. Sally Reis, is held at the University of Connecticut.  Some of the top names in gifted education are brought in to serve as keynote speakers and workshop trainers, sharing the most up-to-date information in the field. Not only will you gain an amazing amount of new ideas, information, and inspiration, but you will have an opportunity to network with those involved with gifted education from around the world.

 

Practice Time-Management

As a teacher of gifted, you will juggle many tasks, from teaching, to developing educational plans, to screening potentially gifted students. If you’re not careful, you can quickly feel overwhelmed.  The best approach for me has been to designate specific times for various activities—yet remain flexible. For example, I might reserve Monday mornings, before classes begin for screening potentially gifted students and use my planning periods during the end of the week to tackle paperwork.  I also try to schedule staffings (where I meet with parents to develop education plans for the student after he or she is eligible for the gifted program) first thing in the morning, before the day gets busy.  The key is to find the schedule that gets the best results for you and creates the least amount of stress.

Become a Champion for Enrichment

Finally, envision yourself as the school’s enrichment specialist, rather than merely the teacher who works with the gifted.  This attitude will encourage you to think about ways to provide enrichment experiences and opportunities for all students at your school.  That could mean starting a lunch program, where you invite guest speakers to share different presentations, an enrichment cluster program, or creating a literature club. If you really want to have an impact, consider enlisting the help of others by establishing a schoolwide enrichment committee comprised of parents, teachers, administrators, and community members.

Working as a teacher of the gifted will provide you with a whole new series of experiences and challenges.  Teaching gifted children will force you to expand your teaching repertoire and improve your skills. Being in a position where you are the sole advocate for gifted education and enrichment will cause you to develop your leadership skills.  There will likely be growing pains—but they will be well worth it!

 

Thanks for reading,

Steve