People who are just starting their journey as the parent of a gifted child are usually full of questions. Two top questions asked by parents of gifted kids are “Is my child gifted?” and “How do I nurture my child’s abilities?” Once the dust settles from those initial questions and answers, parents begin to face problems and look for answers to harder questions. “How can I get the school to accommodate my child’s academic needs?” “How can I convince my child’s teacher that he needs more challenging material?” How can I get my child’s teacher to understand that she isn’t struggling with homework because it’s too hard, but because it’s too easy?” Those are not easy questions to answer.
Too often the real answer to those questions is “You can’t.” But no one wants to come right out and say that, of course, so we make suggestions like these:
- Discuss your child’s academic needs with the teacher, discussing the importance of the “right fit” rather than your child’s giftedness.
- Share your child’s work from home with the teacher to show her what your child is capable of doing
- Keep a positive attitude when talking with school officials, including your child’s teacher
Chances are, though, the parent asking those questions has already “been there and done that.” That is, they have tried most everything and nothing has worked, so they are looking for some foolproof methods guaranteed to produce the desired effect. I saw this up close at a parent night I attended during a gifted conference. A panel had been gathered for one session consisting of a couple of experienced parents and a couple of gifted experts. Each panel member gave a brief talk about their successes working with the schools and the various methods that can be used to attain that success. When each panel member had had a chance to speak, audience members could ask questions. Nearly every question was prefaced with some form of “I tried what you said, but…” The panel members were at a loss. Parents were frustrated.
This is not to say that no parents ever find some of this advice helpful. After all, not every parent knows the value of gathering samples of work their child has done at home to show what she is capable of doing or the importance of talking about the right fit when talking about meeting the academic needs of a gifted child. Nor do all parents know that most educators are well aware of the importance of a good academic fit for all children (or that it’s best to leave the word “gifted” out of the discussion.) It’s not unusual for parents to get upset or even angry when advocating for their gifted child, but beating your head against a brick wall will do that do you. So it is always good to remind parents to remain as positive as possible. The only thing a negative attitude will get you is a negative attitude.
However, when the initial advice has been tried and hasn’t worked, we have to go to “Level 2 Advice.” That’s when we suggest volunteering at the school or homeschooling. Volunteering at the school is a great way to be heard. Truthfully, it’s less that you’re actually being heard and more that you have become a member of the “in-group,” the special group that gets the perks. You help them; they help you. The problem is, many parents work and can’t afford to quit their jobs simply to make it possible for them to volunteer at school, not that some volunteering can’t be done by working parents, but there are fewer opportunities for that kind of volunteering and so less likelihood of being admitted to the “in-group.”
The other piece of “Level 2 Advice” – Homeschool – also isn’t always possible for parents. If it’s hard for working parents to volunteer at their child’s school, it’s even harder for them to homeschool. If a parent is lucky, she can find a local homeschooling coop, where parents share homeschooling responsibilities. A parent who works during the week might take the kids on a Saturday field trip or do something one evening. Remember, there is more flexibility with homeschooling. “School” doesn’t have to take place from 8 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, five days a week.
But what about those working parents who can’t afford to quit their jobs and have no access to a homeschool coop? That was my personal experience. I tried everything to get two different grade schools, five different principals, and ten different teachers to provide my son with the academic services he needed. I asked for help constantly. After explaining the situation to parents of gifted kids with more experience than I had, the only answer I would get was “homeschool.” But I was a single mom and couldn’t quit working. After failing to get anywhere with two teachers and three principals at the second school, I knew that homeschooling was the only true answer and actually nearly pulled off a homeschooling plan. Unfortunately, the plan fell apart and my son was stuck in an intolerable situation.
So volunteering and homeschooling aren’t possible for many parents of gifted children. What about private schools? Sometimes a good private school is a good option. But that means that first, a parent has to be able to afford private school tuition and, second, the school has to be willing to meet the academic needs of a gifted child. My child’s first school? It was a private school. I removed him because they refused to do anything for him, no matter what I did, said, or provided. I decided that if a school was going to fail to meet my son’s academic needs, I might as well have the school do for a lot less money.
If we can’t do anything about school, then what about extracurricular activities? You can enroll your child in various programs outside of school, where he can learn more about math, writing, language, music, art, or whatever he might be interested in. The problem with that is that such programs are not always readily available and when they are, they can be expensive. Not all parents can afford the costs of these programs, especially if they have more than one gifted child.
It should be clear by now why the answer to the questions posed about what you can do to get the school to meet your child’s academic needs is “You can’t” and why the options for helping a gifted child aren’t always possible for everyone. I hate to leave those questions unanswered, but I simply have no answers.
Some parents eventually give up. After all, how many times can you bang your head against a brick wall? It’s painful. Very painful. Some parents suffer through it all, doing whatever they can, and finally breathe easy when their child is out of school. But if we ever want to have real answers for those tough questions, we need to do more.Not only can we not give up on our children, we can’t give up on ANY gifted child.
We need to work on behalf of all gifted children until their needs are fully understood and schools genuinely try to meet those needs. We need to work together so that no parent ever again has to endure the pain that comes not only from banging their head against a brick wall, but also from watching the sparkle of life grow dimmer in their child’s eyes as the love of learning slowly dies.