I Used to be Gifted

Mark Hess

Next to me sits Matthew, a smoldering 4th grade boy.  He’s trying to keep all of the intensities inside, but they keep leaking out.

Impatience.  He interrupts.  His mom brings him back to the topic at the table—his advanced learning plan, but he is ready to launch into a detailed explanation of a tangent of a tangent of a thought he has connected. 

Next to me, I can almost see his frequencies light up—the wires and electrons connecting, crossing, uncrossing, heading off and away at light speed.  His mom keeps bringing him back.  She knows him well.  She’s used to this.

We discuss Matthew’s advanced learning plan and how things are going in this, his new school.  “Pretty good,” he says, “…except for that brain thing.”

“That brain thing?”

“I guess I might have a problem with my brain,” he explains, looking at his mom for confirmation.  She has heard about this already. 

The “brain thing” comment has come from another boy in his class.  Both his mother and I jump in with the same sort of comments and reassurances.  This is the sort of mean thing others say to try to make you feel bad, and these people are trying to make you feel bad because they feel bad about themselves.  Making you feel bad will make them feel better.

“I know,” he says, but he is doubtful.

You have a problem with your brain.  This is the sort of comment 4th grade boys throw around at one another.  Instead of hurling rocks, they may hurl words—trying to tease, trying to get a rise out of others, seeing if someone will bite on the challenge.  But Matthew has taken the comment to heart.  Sitting next to me, I can see it.  I can feel it.  This comment hurts deeply.  It’s almost as if he is in mourning.  His grief radiates. 

Other boys would let the comment pass, maybe even laugh.  Still others would fire back in some way, hurl an even bigger rock—try to even the score.  Matthew’s sensitivity, though, is profound.  It is devastating.  It is beautiful.

I fear the beauty will turn inward.  It is so easily done.

How many times has an adult say to me, “You teach gifted and talented?  I used to be gifted . . .”

“Used to be?”

Sometimes I have tried to explain to a gifted adult what they might be feeling.  Maybe there was no such thing as a gifted and talented program when and where they grew up.  Maybe no one had ever talked to them about what being gifted was all about, or maybe the timing was wrong.  Maybe life got in the way.  Maybe they met with disapproval—felt like an outsider.  Maybe they felt like they had some sort of problem with their brain.  Maybe they stopped listening to their voice inside.

Yes, you were gifted.  You still are.  There is no used to be in any definition.  Giftedness does not run out; it doesn’t have a border; giftedness is a way of being.  All of your life you have been thinking things other people did not typically think about, making connections others did not easily make, feeling the world more intensely than others.  To you, it just seemed normal . . . because the only head you could see inside of was your own.



But all along, you were writing a sort of poetry about the world . . . and think about it . . . were there times you kept that poetry inside?  Did you learn to keep it muted?  Hidden?  Did you believe that maybe you had a brain thing?

Is that why you say you used to be gifted? 

I wonder what it would take to make you feel safe enough to share that poetry inside yourself again?

Mark Hess is a gifted resource teacher in Colorado Springs. He is the president of the Pikes Peak Association for Gifted Students and board member for the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented.