Knowing that many of my former colleagues returned to work today facing some of the most difficult challenges they have ever encountered in their careers, I looked for something to inspire them. I came across this video that was posted in 2015 by Jubilee Media. Here we are, five years after this video was created, and I think that many of us have a better understanding of what it would be like to have a world without a teachers. If you are an educator, struggling to learn a thousand new skills you never imagined you would need, I hope you will watch this and distill all of the noise and demands being made of you into the only thing that makes a difference – you.
I teach students who have been identified as “gifted.” Yet I know that there are many kinds of giftedness that may not be measured by the tests we give. I also know that there are students who qualify for my program who sometimes have difficulty in school – and in life. Being labeled “gifted” does not guarantee success; not being “gifted” does not doom one to failure.
When my daughter entered school, we had the choice of whether or not to have her take a test that might qualify her to skip kindergarten. One of the people I asked for advice said, “Well, it depends. Many of the students who skip a grade don’t end up qualifying for the gifted program. How important is it for your child to be ‘gifted?’ At this point, she may always be at the top of her class, but if she skips kindergarten she may not stand out so much.”
We let her take the test. It was more important for me to make sure she would be at a level appropriate to her ability most of the time than for her to receive a label that would only guarantee a couple of hours a week of advanced curriculum.
She passed the test and moved to 1st grade her second week of school. When she was tested for Gifted and Talented later that year, she did not qualify.
I’ll admit that it stung a bit. I teach gifted and talented students and, like many parents, I was pretty proud of my own child’s intelligence. But she had an incredible first grade teacher (thanks, Mrs. Whitworth!) and it was clear that my daughter was well-suited for the academics she encountered. The only time I’ve regretted the decision for her to skip kindergarten is when I realized that it meant I had one less year to save for college – and to prepare for an empty nest.
My daughter eventually qualified for the Gifted and Talented program. I was happy because I knew she would learn even more great things from the teacher, Mrs. Balbert. I was even fortunate to have my daughter in my own GT class her last year of elementary school.
But I would have been fine if she had not ever been identified as gifted. Because what I admire most about my daughter is not her grades or her label. It is her desire to learn. She is intrinsically motivated and willing to try new things. She chooses activities and classes that interest her, and works hard because they were her choices.
This is what I tell parents of students who do not qualify for our program – just as GT does not equal accomplishment, not being in a GT program does not condemn a student to an average life. In fact, according to the Fullerton Longitudinal Study, which you can read about here, it is the “motivationally gifted” who seem to reap the most benefits when it comes to advanced academic degrees and leadership potential. And, as you’ve probably guessed, not many GT programs test for intrinsic motivation.
The good news – and the bad news – is that the desire to learn can be fostered in any child when parents and educators shift the focus of learning to encouraging curiosity and the development of strengths and away from the emphasis on grade point averages.
Parents, do your child a favor by disregarding class rank, and work with the school to find courses that interest him or her. Model your own enjoyment of learning new things and taking calculated risks. Help your child to understand what it feels like to pursue a difficult challenge because it is interesting instead of because it will look good on a transcript.
Educators, think about what you can do to contribute to providing environments that nurture the desire to learn. (Shift This, by Joy Kirr, is a great book to help you get started.) Cultivate student interests and strengths whenever you have the opportunity.
GT, Honors, AP, straight A’s, should not be badges of honor – or shame. I was devastated when I wasn’t first in my class in high school, but it hasn’t made a speck of difference in my success or lack of it. Fortunately, I never lost my desire to learn. Just a few months ago, I learned how to change my own flat tire, and it felt pretty good. Until my daughter clocked me in the head with the car door. “Car-ma” for being a little too proud of my own accomplishment. Is it possible to be overly intrinsically motivated? Maybe that should be the follow-up study…
Now, if you don’t know by now that I adore Kid President, you need to see this post, and, well, pretty much any of these. That is why I was so excited to find that We Are Teachers is offering a set of free Kid President printable posters here. And I just got my own laminator, so I am going to be making good use of it. (I never knew I wanted to laminate so many things until I got this little gadget!) By the way, We Are Teachers has a lot of other sets of free printables that you can find here, including 5 free kindness posters which I’m ready to laminate and post anonymously in numerous public places or maybe just hire a plane to drop like leaflets all over the country…
As I posted last week, our family has been on vacation. This is how our relaxing trip began (at 6 am):
“The Uber is here! OMG why isn’t everyone ready? I told you it would be here at 6, and it’s here! We need to wait outside. Where is the key? You can’t find the key? Fine! I’ll lock everything and go out the garage door. Take my stuff.”
5 minutes later in the Uber, “Where is my black bag?” Assured that if it was with my stuff it got put in the trunk.
15 minutes later at the airport, “You didn’t put my black bag in the Uber?!!!!!” Apparently it was not with my stuff.
And that’s when the Uber driver reassured me that he could quickly bring me back to the house to retrieve the black bag that basically had everything in it we needed for the trip and have me back to the airport in plenty of time. My husband smartly did not point out that we would not have had this extra time if he hadn’t insisted we get to the airport early. He knew, I am sure, that I would have snapped back that I wouldn’t have left my black bag at the house if he hadn’t made me get up at such a ridiculous time.
You might think that this was a terrible way to begin a vacation and you would be right. However, what could have become an escalating crisis resulting in a missed plane and a potential divorce actually turned into an enlightening car ride that made me appreciative of all of the amazing people we meet during life’s journey. So, I have decided to dedicate this post to all of the awesome people I encountered during our vacation, beginning with the Uber Driver who volunteered to drive 30 minutes alone with a hysterical woman who placed ridiculous value on a “black bag” which no one but the woman seemed to believe existed.
Anh, the Uber Driver – Anh heard “Proud to be an American” on the radio as we traveled back to my house and confided in me that the song always makes him cry. He is so happy to be in our country and that his daughter is able to go to school here. He choked up as he spoke about the people who have died for our freedom, and vented his anger at his former homeland where they apparently spend a good amount of the school day teaching students to hate Americans. Anh is the epitome of American patriotism.
Linda, Steven, and Nya at the Cellar Door Bookstore – Our travels began in Riverside, California where our daughter was competing in a tournament. After a failed trip to Palm Springs (where it was literally 118 degrees), my husband and I despaired of doing anything but going to the local mall to watch movies. (I don’t recommend 47 Meters Down if you are planning to ever swim in the ocean again.) . The Cellar Door Bookstore was a refreshing oasis in the middle of a blistering hot trip. I adore independent bookstores, especially ones with resident dogs like Nya. I bought a lovely book called, All These Wonders, which is stories from The Moth. Linda and Steven were so friendly and full of advice that I seriously considered moving to Riverside just so I could work in their store.
Lisa at Game Seeker – We finally got to migrate from southern California to Santa Barbara, where we discovered this delightful shop on State Street. I love games, but usually end up buying them online. However, Lisa reminded me why it is so important to patronize local stores like hers. She is very knowledgeable and personable. When she learned I had chosen the game Dog Pile for my classroom (gotta work on those spatial reasoning skills), she recommended something I had never heard of called Plus Plus, which she said would provide hours of building fun for my students.
Crystal at Stanford – My daughter and her friends wanted to tour Stanford while we were in California. By the end of the tour, I was ready to auction off everything I own just so I could attend. Crystal, our tour guide, was as enthusiastic about Stanford as Anh is about living in the United States. She showed us her own Foldscope, a paper microscope that had been invented at Stanford, told us about all of the hands-on opportunities she has had since she began last fall, and passionately spoke about the dedication of her professors. Crystal pointed out one science building on the tour where Stanford co-hosts a 24-hour live feed with MIT, stressing that Stanford believes in collaboration rather than competition.
What struck me about each of the people mentioned above was the enthusiasm and passion they brought to their work. Through my interaction with each of them, I felt inspired and ready to embrace my life with more zest.
And so I leave you with an image and quote provided by Inspirobot, an artificial intelligence inspirational quote generator, that seems to perfectly deliver the message of this post.
Nope. Wrong one.
Probably the reality check I need most of the time. But still not the right one.
I despise routine, mundane activities. My daughter inherited this attitude, unfortunately, so we often find ourselves at an impasse when neither one of us feels motivated to do something that needs to be done.
She rides a shuttle bus from her magnet school each day, and her responsibility is to text me when the bus leaves so I can meet her at its destination. My responsibility is to keep reminding her to text me so the rest of our afternoon doesn’t turn into angry accusations about who forgot who.
The other day, she actually remembered to text me as she left. Usually, I try to reward this with a response like, “On my way!” or , “Okay!” Feeling a bit perverse and bored with always giving the same answers, I decided to text, “ocean,” instead.
“?” she texted back.
I don’t know why I texted “ocean.” Moms aren’t supposed to do random, unexplained things. Why did I type “ocean” of all words? Where did that come from? How was I supposed to follow that?
“Joel,” I texted next, feeling that I might as well make her think I had gone completely insane.
When I parked at the school to wait for her bus, I sent one more word – “goat.”
Unsurprisingly, my daughter had raised eyebrows when she finally got in the car.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“You’re supposed to figure out what all three have in common,” I said – as though this had been the plan the whole time.
“They all have o’s?” she asked.
After a few more guesses, she resorted to Google on her phone.
“So, apparently, a guy named Joel saw a goat jump into the ocean,” she said.
“Yeah. That’s not it, either.”
Google finally rewarded her after she sifted out all of the suicidal goat links.
“They’re all Billy’s!” she exclaimed.
“This is fun! Let’s do it again! I might actually remember to text you if this is what happens every time.”
Her last statement penetrated my teacher brain, reinforcing something that I’ve known for awhile but never considered applying to our minor daily Battle of the Texts.
We all enjoy challenges that are in our Zone of Proximal Development. In fact, they can engage and motivate us. I observe this daily in my students when they make faces about tough math problems or reading passages – yet beg for more after they’ve succeeded. It’s why activities like Breakout EDU and the Wonder League Robotics Competition missions are so popular. These problems are novel and require deliberate thought, but are achievable with hard work.
Many of us struggle with how to motivate our children and/or students. Rewards seem like bribes, and punishment causes resentment – which is never productive. We want our young people to develop intrinsic motivation instead of becoming eternally dependent on a carrot or a stick. That ZPD contains the secret. Find that activity that makes them think a little harder, but is within their reach, and their eventual success will make them hunger for the next challenge instead of dreading or avoiding it.
By the way, it has been two days since the first random, accidental text. So far, my daughter has not forgotten to text me and even, much to her delight, was able to solve one of my puzzles without any help from Google. Of course, you don’t have to think of your own puzzles like this. Tribond is a game with the same purpose, and there are plenty of resources on the internet that are similar. If you want something a bit harder, check out “Kennections” by Ken Jennings.