As parents of gifted children prepare to send their children to school at the end of the summer months, they may ask themselves “Should I tell the teacher my child is gifted?” It’s not an question to answer. One minute it seems like a good idea. The next minute it seems more like a bad idea. What you decide to do depends on several factors and you’ll want to weight the pros and cons carefully.
Has Your Child Attended This School Before?
If your child has already attended the school, then it’s possible that his new teacher already knows something about him. This is especially likely if your child did exceptionally well or if he presented numerous problems. Teachers do talk to each other, and it’s not unusual for them to share information about students. They may share information throughout the school year, but they also may share information at the beginning of the school year so that the teachers who will have those students who did exceptionally well or who had problems during the previous school year will be better prepared to teach them. Of course, they also share information about the other students, but unless something stands out about the student, any information they share would support the notion that the student is the typical, average student.
That means that your child’s new teacher will have preconceived ideas about your child’s abilities and behavior issues. If your child wasn’t challenged in the previous grade, didn’t do his homework, and had “problems” socializing, you can expect the new teacher to be aware of it. That teacher will expect to see the same behavior from your child in her classroom. If, however, your child was a high achiever, with lots of friends, that is what the new teacher will expect. Those preconceived ideas can affect how the new teacher interprets your child’s behavior in her classroom.
If your child has never attended the school before because he is just starting school or because you have moved or simply enrolled him in a different school, then you don’t have to worry about those preconceived ideas. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t help you answer the question of whether or not to tell the new teacher about your child’s abilities.
What Kind of Personality and Temperament Does Your Child Have?
If your child tends to misbehave when he gets frustrated, a teacher will be likely to see him as immature or as having ADHD. On the other hand, if your child is complacent and can control her frustration with boring work, she’ll most likely be seen as a model student. If your child’s frustration leads him to turn off and tune out so that he doesn’t complete homework and therefore gets poor grades, he will be seen as a poor to average student. If, however, your child completes assignments without complaining, no matter how tedious and boring the work is, and gets excellent grades, the teacher will most likely see her as a high achiever.
In both cases, your child is unlikely to get the kind of challenging work he or she needs. For this reason, you will feel that it might be in your child’s best interest to talk to the teacher about your child’s abilities and needs. But is it?
What Does the New Teacher Know About Gifted Children?
If your child’s new teacher has had some training in gifted education and is familiar with gifted children, she will be more likely to understand problems that show up in the classroom. Not only will such a teacher be more likely than others to see boredom, frustration, and gifted traits like asynchronous development as the source of those problems, she will also be more willing to provide what the child needs in the classroom. Even if she knows ahead of time that she will have a child in her classroom who was a problem the previous year, she will know to look for signs of giftedness as the source of the problems when the child comes to her classroom.
But then if the teacher already knows about gifted children, why do you need to explain anything about your child? If your child is excelling in school, she is likely to continue excelling in this teacher’s classroom. If she’s not excelling, this teacher will likely do what she can to understand your child and provide challenging work. This is also the kind of teacher who is likely to contact you before you contact her to talk about your child.
Of course, you have to first find out if your child’s new teacher has a background in gifted education. Attending some professional development sessions on gifted kids may not be enough. It’s possible for teachers to attend such training sessions and still harbor negative attitudes toward gifted kids. Being certified in gifted education would be better. You can look up the credentials for your child’s teacher by visiting the website of your state’s education agency (How to look up the background of teachers in every state).
With those factors in mind, consider the advantages and disadvantages of both telling and not telling your child’s new teacher about your child’s abilities. Clearly, there is no easy answer to whether or not to tell the teacher that a child is gifted or wait to see if the teacher sees it for herself.
Do you think your child might be misunderstood or missed or do you think that your child might be easily recognized? Evaluating your child might push you closer to making one decision rather than the other, but it’s also important to consider the teacher and the teacher’s background.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Talking to the Teacher About Your Child
- No time is wasted.
- A teacher can address your child’s academic needs from the beginning of the school year. Your child will be learning with appropriately challenging material.
- Misdiagnosis is less likely.
- Once a misdiagnosis is made, it is extremely difficult to change it, and that diagnosis follows a child throughout his or her school years.
- Teachers can learn about giftedness.
- Some teachers welcome the opportunity to learn about gifted children and their needs and enjoy having them in their classrooms. When a parent mentions giftedness to the teacher at the beginning of the year, the teacher has a chance to learn about gifted children and their academic needs. They also have a chance to plan lessons ahead of time rather than having to figure out what to do with a child once the school year has gotten under way.
- Teacher may see you as a pushy parent.
Some teachers are suspicious when they are told that a child is smart. They may believe that the parent is just one more pushy parent who thinks their average child is brilliant. Instead of providing the child with more challenging work, the teacher may expect the child to complete all assignments perfectly and use the lack of perfection to “prove” that the child is not as smart as the parent believes.
- Teacher may be resentful and react negatively.
Some teachers believe that they are professional and experienced enough to recognize a gifted child when they see one and don’t always appreciate a parent telling them that their child is gifted. Of course, unless a teacher has training in gifted education, they may not recognize gifted children, but that doesn’t change the fact that teachers may feel somewhat professionally insulted.
- Some teachers don’t like gifted children.
While some teachers love to work with gifted children, others don’t. Those who don’t may treat the child with less respect than he or she treats the other children.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Not Talking to the Teacher About Your Child
- You won’t look like a pushy parent.
- When the teacher takes the initiative in recognizing your child’s high ability, he or she is more likely to believe that your child is gifted rather than a hothoused child of average ability whose parents have been pushing.
- Teacher will not be alienated.
- Parents who tell the teacher that their child is gifted often risk alienating the teacher, who may then treat the child more negatively than he or she might otherwise have done. Some of the alienation comes from resentment of pushy parents and some comes from disliking being told that a child needs special treatment.
- Your child may be overlooked.
- This is perhaps the greatest disadvantage. Unless your child looks like what the teacher expects a gifted child to look like, the teacher may not recognize her as gifted. Underachieving gifted students are often missed because they aren’t the top achievers in the class.
- Your child is inaccurately labeled.
- If a highly gifted child is not appropriately challenged and begins to misbehave, that child may be labeled as an ADHD child. Inaccurate labels need not be official. That is, a teacher may simply classify the child as lazy or immature or as a troublemaker or daydreamer. Once seen in those terms, a child has a hard time looking like anything else in the teacher’s eyes and parents will have a very difficult time convincing the teacher that the child needs more challenging work.
No one can answer tell you which is the best option for you and your child. And there is no guarantee that even after much thought, you will choose the option that turns out to be the right one. However, you are more likely to get a happy ending if you carefully consider these factors as well as all the advantages and disadvantages. And if you do decide to talk to the teacher, whether it’s at the beginning of the school year or some time later, you’ll want to prepare and follow these tips (like avoid the “g” word”).
Whether you talk to your child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year or later, you’ll want to follow some basic tips for talking to your child’s teacher .