You just graduated college. It is hard to find a job with just an undergraduate degree these days. You love school. You spent six years and a summer school session at four different colleges figuring it all out. Maybe you changed your major senior year. Maybe you have debt, but you wouldn’t trade it for the experience you had. And now what? Are you feeling the call of grad school? Is now the time?
I don’t know what it is about college stairwells — the worn wooden handrails, pull-tab information flyers taped on the walls for writing groups, nanny positions, computer help, flu shot clinics, self-help groups. It could be my quickened heartbeat, racing up to the third floor, or the echoing ghosts of past academic conversations that awaken my curiosity and potential.
I felt a pressure to go get my master’s. Most of the pressure was coming from within me. I wantedthat MFA in creative writing. I wanted to spend my days on campus. I wanted to keep living that academic life, but I needed to get a job.
I know that today’s generation is holding out longer than mine to settle down. As a kid of Gen X, I felt the pressure to get married, have a career, pop out some babies, and be financially secure by age 25.
25? Didn’t my brain just finish developing somewhere around then?
I lived my life first.
I was the last of my group of friends to get married and have a baby. Unfortunately, many of those friends in our twenties who had amazing weddings in Asheville, Sarasota, Vail Ski Resort, Long Island, Costa Rica… they are divorced now.
I started my teaching career right after I graduated. I love being an English teacher. Being a teacher, although at the beginning barely paid the bills, gave me time to write and create art, learn to play guitar, travel and meet people, see the world, work extra jobs, make a ton of mistakes, learn from my life, and grow up. Some day, maybe, I would go back to school.
“You don’t have to get the MFA. Fine if you want to, but you don’t need it to be a writer.” -Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate
After teaching for 18 years, with a supportive husband of 6 years and a child in kindergarten, I finally decided to get a Master’s in Education.
And it was the best decision at the right time.
I finally totally knew what I wanted. Being a teacher is what the universe called me to do, but I wanted to deeply understand my chosen career. I couldn’t have studied and researched and written about education and learning without the depth of my experience first.
It wasn’t just the teaching experience that helped me in grad school. Life experience showed me things like resilience, commitment to personal growth, commitment to success, willingness to grow and stretch in my teaching practice.
Because I waited, I had confidence to speak in class, give presentations, research, and write long about my learning. I knew what I was doing, and I knew what I did not yet know. I was very open to ideas, and I felt life was showing me yes, I chose the right path.
The biggest lesson- it is never too late to do [fill in the blank].
Who says 45 is too late to write (finish) my first novel?
I will echo what my poetry mentor, Jaki Shelton Green reassured me:
If you are ready for grad school, or if it is the next step in your career aspirations, go for it. The time is now. If not, don’t worry, schools will be lined up to take your money when you are ready.
My reflection on and philosophy of gifted education comes from my masters of education program, where I specialized in studying academically and intellectually gifted teaching and learning.
Gifted people exhibit a combination of high intellectual ability and potential for talent in one or more domains of curiosity, performance, athleticism, art, or academic interest (Van Tassel-Baska, 2005) that measure above and beyond the average expectations of their classroom, age, or any other grouping where potential and talent are measured. I have learned through the many conceptions and definitions of giftedness that the “three-ring conception” of giftedness (Renzulli, 1998) most fits my own philosophy. Measurements must not be limited to performance on standardized testing, nor be contingent on socio-economic, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds.
Giftedness can be presented through portfolios or other documented collections of work and performance. Students who display these characteristics deserve to be challenged and appropriately taught to meet their needs.
People who work with gifted students have a responsibility to develop an explicit education plan that nurtures all aspects of students’ high potential, while taking into consideration the social and emotional needs of the individual.
Learning happens when a person can make connections with the topics and life experience, other disciplines, or foundational skills.
Students who make quick connections should be allowed and encouraged to explore topics of skill and interest at a pace and depth that meets their goals and needs. Some students need acceleration in skills and in content, but for core knowledge — teachers should provide best possible content and delivery within the resources available. Students need to be known to the best of a teacher’s and school’s ability, so that learning paths can be designed in an authentic way that are meaningful to the students. The Parallel Curriculum Model (Tomlinson, Renzulli, et al., 2009) stresses the importance of designing authentic curriculum and experiences that will have lasting effects on student learning.
“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” (John Dewey, 1897)
In order to provide gifted education, this philosophy and definition must be held in high regard when making decisions for students and programs. All students need to be challenged in order to grow. Potential should be recognized and teachers should strive to foster talent and potential in all students by providing engaging paths for learning. The bright students, formally identified or not, deserve to be challenged and taught at their level.
Teachers of all students should provide a child-centered learning environment, so that all students have an opportunity to reach their goals.
Gifted education should allow kids to be creative, allow for choice, play into their interests and challenge them to solve problems or find problems within disciplines. Students should grapple with real life applications of the discipline- and to find connection and meaning with all of the content.
Thus, I believe that good education is gifted education and gifted education is good education.
This echoes some of what Borland (2005) theorizes about schools providing gifted education without labels.
Reflective practice and commitment to life-long learning are at the heart of my beliefs about education.
Teachers should be constantly seeking professional development, participate in professional communities, and immerse themselves in the world of education. Just as we ask our students to reflect on their work, it is important that we take time to examine our practice in the classroom.
I think by modeling that we are awake to life, students begin to appreciate that they have the present moment to build upon.
Teachers must be responsive to students and to meet them where they are. As teachers, we only can influence in the moment, and so we must take this very seriously.
One example of a defensible curriculum for gifted and allstudents is the Parallel Curriculum Model (Tomlinson, Renzulli, et al., 2009). The Parallel Curriculum Model allows teachers to design units with ascending intellectual demands as well as decide the angle at which to present the content. This model helps gifted students practice and identify with the discipline within the adult world. Gifted students need depth beyond a regular curriculum. Within the Parallel Curriculum, students can grapple with problems and extend their experience with a subject.
For example, I have used the Core Curriculum and Curriculum of Identity parallels in my fantasy literature unit for fourth grade. Students have designed learning paths based on levels of interest, curiosity, skill, and core understandings. Products in this unit are engaging and allow for student creativity. This model also stresses theimportance of differentiationwithin every level of learning, because it incorporates individualized learning paths.
Activities are designed so that students can enrich and extend their learning through advanced experiences. Some examples of this are identifying with a literary research project about authors’ influences or archetypes across literature. Students tap into their understanding of theme by exploring the concept of power, either through an online discussion or art expression, for example, about how power shifts in scenes, dialogue, and through character changes.
In my classroom, students create Harry Potter’s world, and because of their connection with the concepts, students’ gifts and creativity shine. Through projects like these, I have learned that I have a constructivist style and some form of Piaget’s (1968) experiential learning and philosophy of teaching.
I have witnessed my students’ joy in learning, in their eagerness to get started on their wand shop or their book of spells.
Another example is when one of my students who is gifted in languages (English is his fourth language.), excitedly came up to my desk to share that he had made a connection between a Latin root word and a magical spell in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Now as an extension, he has the option to explore other root words, their meanings, and their connection to other spells in the book.
Gifted education should expand a students’ critical thinking, connections, and creativity.
The purpose of gifted education is to meet the needs of our brightest students and to recognize and nurture academic and intellectual potential and talent so that students continue to strive for excellence in all they do. It is the teachers’ and administrators’ educational responsibility to provide enriching and challenging curricula that allow for creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual growth so that children can be life-long learners and become creative-productive adults.
I believe that all students deserve to have an education that builds on interconnected disciplines, and that learning paths should be designed in an authentic way that is meaningful to the students. When students are truly connected with what they are learning, and a teacher has a true understanding of her or his students, student productivity and creativity expand.
Educational experiences designed and planned with this philosophy will nurture giftedness, high ability/potential, and talent. Students can build successes on their potential, and with the right teaching and mentoring, can blossom and reach their full potential and move on to be creative-productive adults.
Borland, J.H. (2005). Gifted education without gifted children: The case for no conception of giftedness. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.). Conceptions of giftedness (2nd ed.) (pp 1–19). Cambridge University Press.
Renzulli J.S. (1998). The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness in Baum S.M., Reis S, M., Maxfield L. R. (Eds.). Nurturing the gifts and talents of primary grade students. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.
Rowling, J. K. (2001). Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone. London: Bloomsberg Children’s.
Tomlinson, C. A., Kaplan, S. N., Renzulli, J. S., et al. (2009). The Parallel curriculum: A design to develop learner potential and challenge advanced learners.California: Corwin Press.
Van Tassel-Baska, J.L. (2005). Domain-specific giftedness: Applications in school and life. InR.J. Sternberg and J.E. Davidson (Eds.) Conceptions of giftedness, 2nd Ed. (pp. 358–376). New York: Cambridge University Press.
A child I am — getting ready high on a new set of brilliant pens fanned out on my floor each color tested- flourished doodles my name your name gorgeous drips butterfly fantasy vessels and profiles planets and alphabet inventions outlined letters a thousand tiny spirals I have the time — shades of purples blended and faded oh! trees and roots wildflowers and hands holding April on a new canvas- Life! How unfolding this paper fortune reveals I am still the same.
“Everyone meets online these days,” Melanie said.
“I know, but this seems way more complicated than using Match or OK Cupid.” Lauren sipped her coffee and laughed at Melanie. She was always trying to set her up!
“Just try it- I know it seems a little scary, but it really isn’t. Actually, I have found my real matches here. I mean, you do not want to meet up with just anyone, do you?”
Nodding, Lauren avoided eye contact with Melanie.
“Besides, Melanie said, “You can just delete it, if you don’t pass the Portent. But I know you, and I know you will get in. You are one of us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just download it- Numinous- look me up on there- I’m Melonius17. Then let’s talk about it next week.”
“I gotta go.” Melanie poured the rest of her coffee into a travel mug. Lauren watched her friend disappear down the block, then down the steps to the subway.
A chilly spring breeze rattled the branches. The patio was filling up with students and friends meeting for breakfast, and Lauren felt pressured to give up her spot. Her waiter kept looking at her. Was she going to order anything else? Yes, she decided. She would order an omelet and toast and another coffee. The waiter glared at her, but turned to bring the carafe and take her order.
Lauren typed in Numinous on the App Store. The search circle spun for minutes before landing on an app. She had to use the fingerprint pad and Eye-scan to download it. Was this the Portent Melanie was talking about? Probably not. She had to use Eye-scan for banking, and a lot of apps used the fingerprint scanner.
“Welcome to Numinous,” scrolled across the screen. Lauren read the instructions to allow the video to open and to use headphones.
Her omelet arrived, but she wasn’t hungry anymore. The waiter sighed and brought her a takeaway container and her check. Lauren thought it might be better to do this at home anyway.
At home, she still was required to use headphones for the Portent. Lauren lived alone with her cat, Simone. The cat darted from the room the moment Lauren tapped on Numinous.
Settling into a turquoise velveteen chair, Lauren watched her screen come to life with voices and a swirl of faces on the screen. She felt dizzy until finally the face on the screen was her own, but it wasn’t a mirror or the selfie mode on the camera. Her own voice spoke to her through her mouth on the screen, but she was not talking.
“Welcome to the Portent,” Screen Lauren said, “the Portent analyzes your responses to some questions before connecting you through to Numinous. I will first begin to ask you to explain any supernatural or strange occurrences, mental powers, or attention to the occult at any point in your life. But first, do you have any questions?”
Lauren brought a hand up to her cheek and squished it gently to see if Screen Lauren would reflect back to her.
When Screen Lauren’s face remained unchanged she said, “It is normal to wonder why we use your own visage. This is a reflection of your subconscious, however you have complete control over how you respond. Think of it as your dream self.”
How did Melanie? Lauren thought.
“You are allowed to invite people into Numinous if you are sure they will pass this Portent. Melanie was sure about you, even though you have not known each other that long. The more you connect on Numinous, the clearer it becomes who may enjoy our services.”
“I noticed,” Screen Lauren continued, “that you have the power to make people understand your needs without telling them. It’s the opposite of mind-reading. You have a strong will, and other people respond to you.”
“Telepathy,” Lauren muttered. She thought of the times through childhood, how she had wished for gifts to be under her bed when she woke up. She felt if she bent her mind in a certain way, her mom would hear her. It worked once. One morning, there was a wrapped gift under her bed. It wasn’t her birthday or any gift-giving holiday. Her mom had bought her the coveted Cabbage Patch doll, which was sold out at every store. She also remembered in high school, junior year, she could control how her teachers graded her work or left her alone when she was not in the mood for class.
“This is a powerful magic you have Lauren. You know this. You may encounter some problems meeting your matches on Numinous. Some people will be able to compete against your will with their own. Some will fear you. You may use this application, but training on mind control will be very important.”
“OK,” Lauren said.
“Unfortunately, the staff at Numinous has not completed the training modules for our consumers at this time. Hopefully you will find an apprenticeship with another member who can help you learn. I have clicked your first seeking preference for meeting others. As you begin to design your profile, other seeking preferences will come to you. Try not to go too fast.”
Simone knocked a glass of water off the counter, startling Lauren. “Oh sorry, Kitty. I will feed you.”
“Do you wish to continue?” Screen Lauren said.
This question repeated itself in Lauren’s head. She dumped too much food in Simone’s dish. She stared at her phone on the chair.
“Tap ‘continue’ on the screen to complete your enrollment.”
“You may withdraw your enrollment at any time.” Lauren’s own voice no longer spoke to her. The voices began to mash together again, the faces swirled on her phone screen. It was someone else — something else.
Alex’s text popped up on her screen.
I WILL BE OVER IN 20 MINUTES.
She couldn’t get Alex to leave her alone. He just did not take a hint.
Saturday, time for the Lake Swim — We would swim all the way to Bragoneer Dock- get Oreo cookies and swim back — one mile total. You had to be in Intermediates to do it, and Molly and I had a swim goal. Back in November we had emailed a pact: On the first day of camp, we would pass Advanced Beginners and go at once into Intermediates. That way, the Lake Swim was ours to be had, a rite of passage, a transition out of being baby campers. Those who had tasted the Lake Bragoneer Oreos were on a pedestal, and this year — this summer, we wanted a taste of that the first week.
We totally passed and those kids who hadn’t yet scowled at us. Maybe Lucy and Shannon would pass next session. Molly and I high-fived. We were in.
They made us wear orange fluorescent swim caps for safety. And the row counselor would only use the motor in case of an emergency.
“I am not sure I want to go,” Molly told me at breakfast. We had to come to the dining hall dressed in our swimsuits. She was wearing hers, but also one of those colorful sweaters from Guatamala. I wished I had one of those sweaters.
“It’s really cold today,” I said.
“It isn’t that. I just don’t feel good.” Molly scratched at her neck and pushed her cereal bowl away.
“Come on, Molly,” I whined, “We have waited all year for today.”
“I know, I don’t know what is wrong.”
My eyes widened and I looked directly at her, “Did you start?” We were ten, but Molly wasn’t as flat as I still was.
They always made a big deal over the “Guppies” — first time Lake Swimmers. Carlos was the row counselor, so he called each kid up one by one in front of everyone to honor them with their new swim cap, while the whole camp cheered, “Swim GUPPY, SWIM!”
Hearing Carlos call my name was an embarrassing and exhilarating initiation. I took my spot next to Molly and the other five new Guppies. I looked over at Molly- she was being so weird today. I knew she was nervous about the challenge, but she was kind of opening her mouth and then closing it, over and over- sort of like she wanted to say something, but decided not to.
The challenge of course, now that we were Lake Swimmers, was to actually swim the whole mile. Plenty of Guppies had opted into the row boat. There was no shame in doing so. Swimming a mile was not easy. But our email pact had stated: NO ROW!
“OK,” Molly ran to the swim docks, “Last one in has to kiss Carlos!” She giggled and held her hands on her neck. I chased after her.
The lake was freezing! I could not believe it. I was shivering and so were all the other kids. Molly shrugged and got her head wet right away. Carlos was in his boat ready with his megaphone. Tina, our fifth grade girls’ counselor was swimming in the front of the group, and Ben, the sixth grade boy’s counselor swam in the back. We found a place in the middle of about twenty campers. All ready to go get those Oreos. One more chant of Swim Guppies! And we were off.
Molly and I doggie-paddled for a bit, so we could talk. “Isn’t it weird how some parts of the water are suddenly warm and then you will go into a cold spot?”
“I don’t know. Not really,” Molly said.
Were we just drifting apart? Why was she acting so strange today?
“When we get up past that sailing beach, see up ahead?” Molly pointed, dove under water, then came back up, “I am gonna take off my swim cap.”
“Why? We aren’t supposed to.”
Molly dove under water again. I could tell she had practiced swimming at the YMCA this year, like she said she would. I couldn’t get my mom to join and then well, time sort of went by. I was lucky I even passed the test.
Now she came back up, but she was at least 15 meters in front of me. “Molly!” I called out to her. I squinted my eyes and saw she was parallel with the sailing beach. I was probably going to have to get glasses when I got home. I couldn’t really see her. She looked almost transparent- like the water was reflecting off of her. I did see though, her bright orange swim cap, bobbing and drifting as I approached the place where I last had seen her.
I waved my hands. Carlos was rowing way up ahead with the fast swimmers. I could see that he was laughing- joking around with Tina and some older campers. Maybe Molly had passed them underwater. Maybe she wanted to eat the first Oreos.
Still, it was so strange. Molly was never a rule breaker. I grabbed onto her swim cap and swam with it. I was getting tired. NO ROW! I told myself. Not that Carlos was paying attention anyway. If that was what it would be like to be a teenager, then no thank you. This Lake Swim was not fun anymore. Where was Molly?
I began to swim towards the back of the group. Maybes he had fallen behind and was back with Ben and the other kids who were getting tired. Why in the world would I swim back the way I had come? I turned back and I was alone. I knew the water way too deep to stand here. An oil slick from a speed boat passed me and at once I realized where Molly went.