The Teacher’s Corner: Dreams of the future begin in the classroom (4-8-16)

CTEq_Image.jpgIt is early April, and it seems that around this time each year, students have finally settled in, which can reflect either positively or negatively in their work, attitude, and friendships. The dynamics of any school environment pose a variety of challenges to educators, whether novice or experienced.

Despite careful planning for curriculum, attention to the social and emotional needs of gifted adolescents, and efforts to offer individualized learning opportunities, some students need something extra. What that “extra” is depends upon the situation, and there are resources galore for any educator wishing some assistance in solving a problem or diffusing a situation. I want to share the foundation of a message I often present to my students: It’s important to realize that educators were once students, too!

I’ve been known to talk about my time spent as a student, both good times and bad. There was success on stage, in a variety of classes, and even in the school and state science fair. I had a great group of friends, some incredible teachers, and many memorable experiences. I helped at school functions, volunteered when available, and tried to form a personal bond with everyone. At times, my overall excitement got the better of me and I found myself in the dean’s office, taking a seat at detention, or in the guidance office struggling to understand why I wasn’t “reaching my potential.” Homework was always last on my to-do list.

But, somehow, I managed to get through school and was accepted to both of my college choices, neither a very big reach. But fortunately, when I was an undergrad, I started to consider the lessons of my educational experiences. I believe that one small change can have an effect, and so I want to share a story that stands out as one that shaped who I am as an educator today and why I believe in the field of gifted education.

It was an afternoon in my guidance counselor’s office. I was a sophomore and had just recovered from major ankle surgery, which left me in a cast for four months. That, coupled with my already lax attitude towards school, (I think it was an F, 2 D’s, and a few C’s) resulted in a meeting with my teachers, my parents, and my guidance counselor. We proceeded to go class by class. What was going wrong? Why was I not doing my work? Studying? Attention? I didn’t have any answers. I was overwhelmed. I was underachieving. I was lost… for the moment.

You can imagine my emotions during this educational intervention. I know there were tears. The meeting wasn’t going well at all until my Math teacher, and whom I had enjoyed for two years, spoke. I can’t recall his exact words, but they revolved around asking me what I enjoyed, what inspired me, and how I went about learning about those things. He praised my effort and enthusiasm. He listened. He viewed me as an individual, and I walked out of that meeting with a confidence I had not had before.

Something changed.

In my 17 years as an educator, I have seen myself in many of my students and because of the remembered experiences of a disorganized student, I aim to create similar moments of change for them, with the understanding that it takes time for change to be realized. The field of gifted education is filled with teachers who are optimistic about student potential, even when the students themselves don’t yet recognize it. I’m proud to call such teachers colleagues.

So, this April I think about all educators who continue to strive in making the educational experience, often filled with many obstacles, more easily navigated. The dreams of the future begin in the classroom.

Jeff Danielian, NAGC's Teacher Resource Specialist, is the Director of the La Salle Scholars Program in Providence, Rhode Island.