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For two years now I have taught a gifted and talented (GT) fifth grade class. Prior to that I taught fourth and fifth grade classes with a significant number of second language learners and students with learning disabilities. (I should note that I still have many second language learners in my class.) Moving to the GT classroom was an interesting change.

My school started this program several years ago in order to keep our GT students from leaving to attend a center program at another school. The GT classes include students who qualify for the center program, the highest level of services, as well as students who qualify for school-based GT services and young scholars (talented students from underrepresented populations who show great potential). As a result, there is still a wide range of abilities and needs among my students.

That said, I have found that teaching this class has been eye opening for me. I believe that prior to this experience I held high expectations for my students and pushed them academically. And yet, these students have shown me how much more they are capable of doing.

In schools like mine, with lots of students living in poverty, lots of students who are learning English, lots of students who do not have much support at home, it is easy to focus on those students who are struggling and the effort to help them reach grade level expectations. It is easy to focus on the weaknesses and miss the strengths. Sadly, I think the emphasis on standardized testing has only increased this trend.

Teaching the GT class has shown me opportunities I missed with my students in the past. I have been willing to take risks with these two groups that intimidated me before. I have given them more freedom as learners and have been amazed. They have stretched themselves and pushed me as a teacher.

For years now I have been frustrated by hearing comments like, “My kids couldn’t possibly do that,” or “That’s way beyond my students.” Our students can’t do anything we don’t allow them the opportunity to try. We’ll never know how talented they might be if we continue to focus on what they can’t do.

I don’t want to suggest that we should ignore their needs. It is important that we continue to work as hard as possible to help all our students reach, and possibly exceed, grade level benchmarks. But the fact that they are performing below grade level in one or more areas shouldn’t mean that we restrict their access to higher level thinking activities, technology, collaboration, and other activities or tools we would want our own children to have.

9 Responses to “Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations?”

  1. Brian Crosby says:

    You said – “But the fact that they are performing below grade level in one or more areas shouldn’t mean that we restrict their access to higher level thinking activities, technology, collaboration, and other activities or tools we would want our own children to have.”



  2. Kimberly says:

    Your post brings two things to mind.

    1. A math workshop with two sets of teachers. Set A kept saying “Our kids can’t do X, that won’t work with our students” Set B said, “I like that activity and see its value, but our students would have difficulty because they don’t understand underlying concept. Do you have suggestions to help there.

    Set A kept interrupting the answer to set B’s questions with more negativity. Finally a teacher from Set B stood up and said – If you had faith in your students they could do this. Stop interrupting so I can get the information I need to help my students. Set A finally shut their mouths – at least in the sessions.

    2. We had the 2nd highest rating given by our State. We had missed the highest rating by 0.4 of a point. I teach at a 100% Title I school with a large number of ESL/BIL students. A teacher from a “rich” school grabbed my ID and looked at my school – in a dismissive manner said “You all did well for your population” (Totally a bigoted tone that I can’t reproduce here).

    I looked at her and said – our population is kids – what do you teach goats. And walked away.

    I found out later our superintendent over heard the conversation, this was a district wide inservice. He wasn’t pleased with the other teacher and she was reprimanded for her attitude. No-one ever said anything to me about it. He does know me because the Superintendent has addressed me by name in a store – and I didn’t have my school ID on and I wasn’t with anyone.

  3. well put. here’s the next step: we design schools where we have these rigorous gt-level expectations and creative outlets for all kids. that means working to get our gifted kids sitting right next to special ed/esl/etc… kids. inclusion works both ways.

  4. Jenorr says:

    I completely agree with you. Keeping our GT kids at our school is one step towards that. We work hard to keep them from being isolated and do a lot of team teaching to have different groups working together. But, we still have a long way to go!

  5. blink says:

    Vincent, another benefit of having these classroom settings in our school is how our teachers school-wide, have increased their awareness in recognizing and identifying strengths and/or gifted behaviors in all kids. Strengths-based instruction beats the deficit model anyday! We agree with you… (from a colleague of Jennorr’s)

  6. alicemercer says:

    This just in folks from LA Times vis NEA Morning Bell, reports that 80% of gifted students do not receive any services.

    I’ve also asked Ira Socal and Socrates to join this discussion since they’ve been duking it out on my blog about KIPP and charters, in my “What DO they need” thread.

  7. speedchange says:

    I think that almost all American schools, when faced with poverty and social class issues, lower expectations to a point which mimics the worst colonial schools of the old British Empire. Even those which claim “high standards” are usually discussing behavioral standards, not the expectation that their poor students will be offered the same educational choices and opportunities as kids in Scarsdale.

    One of the reasons that I beg schools to embrace contemporary technologies is that these can break down the walls which separate poor, struggling, and LD students from truly high levels of success. The web can bring the world’s best libraries into the classroom and read the books to the students. Skype video calls can bring experts from around the globe into the room. MIT will deliver courses for free, so will Stanford. Free software can translate for language learners, and free software will really support spelling (and thus writing confidence) for language learning and dyslexia. I can bring 100,000 sophisticated math web sites to any room. And within two years, you’ll be able to run all this stuff on the standard mobile phone.

    Real high achievement will not come without access and opportunity. Without overthrowing the US government and its school finance structure – the only way to really offer access and opportunity to schools in low SES communities is through technology.

  8. Lisa Parisi says:

    Great Post. And I love the conversation thread in the comments. We must work to keep our students integrated regardless of tested ability levels. Then, using differentiated instruction, we can have all students achieve at high levels.

    And brava, Jen, for putting out there that you did not push your students enough prior to teaching the GT class. So many of us are afraid to say how much we have learned over the years. I often say, “If only I knew then what I know now.” It is important for teachers to continue their learning, too.

  9. Jen says:

    @Lisa One of the things I’m most looking forward to about teaching first grade is the lack of labels. There will be kids with special education or ESOL or other labels, but they will be fewer than I’ve had in 4th and 5th grades. I’m excited to teach them all, as they are.

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