Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Gifted Teacher

A question I've been pondering for a while is "What do we do to help our gifted teachers become better?" I find the following perspective on a staff by a principal a fairly representative one:

For the most part, our teachers do very well. We all have ways we can improve, and for the most part, our professional development and my face-to-face conversations and evaluations meet the needs of our typical teachers.

There are two other groups of teachers. One group is a group that is struggling, and unfortunately take up much of my time in addressing professional obligations not met or handling parental or student conflicts with the teacher. With this group, I am working with them individually, helping them with intensive assistance. And while this is one thing that is taboo to say, it is true that with a few who cannot fit into the system, I have looked for the best method to part ways.

But there is another group, the high-flyers. These teachers have such an understanding and brilliance that everything they do is a model of excellence. I'm afraid I don't have much to offer them... it's not like I can teach them how to be a better choir instructor when I've never taught choir. This group improves on their own, and it's my strategy to stay out of their way as much as possible.

What's remarkable is that, substituting the notion of job performance with the notion of learning, the description is the same of what a principal or teacher might say about students.

As a former TAG teacher, I could go on and on about the dangers of taking that last approach with gifted students. They have just as much right to learn as others. By not developing the best and the brightest, we stunt those who have a great chance to dramatically improve our society. They can offer the class many talents that improve learning for all. It is unethical. And, it is lazy. But as a principal who was guilty of this approach as well, I can say it becomes necessary if I don't have help figuring out a better answer.

This is, of course, validated by all the literature about talented and gifted education that is out there. What is interesting is, I don't see a corresponding set of literature about the gifted teacher. Are not all the things above true for gifted teachers as they are gifted students? And yet, the national discussion continues back to the dilemma of the least talented of teachers and the drain on our educational system.

It's not as though I have the answer, however. I use this as a selling point for the need for PLNs, and it is true that helping gifted teachers network with other gifted teachers does help them grow. But I'm not satisfied with that answer. The onus for improvement is put upon the teacher, as it is with a hands-off "get out of their way" approach.

What do we do to help our gifted teachers improve?

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