Teacher of Gifted
Braden River Elementary and Mills Elementary
Can you give us a brief overview of the grades and subjects you’ve taught over the years?
I have taught grade 2, 3, 4 and 5. I have also taught grades K-5 gifted. Finally, I was a teacher trainer working with teachers who taught grades K-10. I have been teaching for over 30 years (oh my goodness… I sound like a dinosaur!)
What challenges come with teaching gifted students?
Gifted kiddos are some of the coolest, funkiest people I know. First of all, they are good with the fact that I have had streaks of purple in my hair for the last several years, and that I have a tattoo. They get that. It is a part of personal expression. In return, I get them and accept them for who they are and their unique perspective on life, academics, friends, etc… Gifted kids are more than just bright, and the term "gifted" means so much more than an IQ score. Research shows that these kids can be more sensitive, worry more about things (including the plight of others around the world) and have other challenges. Being "gifted" is no silver bullet. It is like anything else in the world that involves people… it is messy and interesting and different every day.
What benefits come with teaching gifted students?
I am challenged daily. I am not their entertainment committee so it is not my job to be sure they are not "bored," which such a misnomer in the "my kid is gifted" thing. I plan lessons that keep the kids in what educators call the "productive struggle," which is feeling a bit uncomfortable in problem-solving. I don’t give any easy answers, and I specifically plan both short-term challenges (many of them are timed, and cooperatively based) to long-range units where kids must solve tough problems. Sometimes, the problems are aimed where there is one correct solution. More often, though, the solution is open-ended.
I require quite a bit of cooperative work. In the real world, very few careers exist now where a person can work in complete isolation. In addition, with the brave new world of the internet, children (as well as adults) seem to be losing the ability to effectively work together and communicate kindly and efficiently. I find it interesting since global connectivity has almost destroyed personal communication.
Another benefit of teaching gifted kids, or any kids, is that I laugh daily. I always can find something fun or funny in every day. I don’t notice too many attorneys or bankers cracking up on a daily basis.
How do you incorporate play into your classroom?
Play is critical! Play is where the open-ended problem solving and creativity comes in! Play can teach innovation, perseverance and critical thinking. In open-ended play, one is engaging their imagination, which is healthy for people of all ages! Think about it this way: without creativity and imagination, would Thomas Edison have given up after 1,000 attempts to invent a successful incandescent lightbulb? Would Alexander Fleming have looked in the petri dish on the windowsill with killed bacterium and have thought "ruined experiment" and have tossed out the first development of penicillin? Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter how it felt to fail 1,000 times. Edison’s answer is the way we should all view the link between play and problem-solving. Edison stated, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Were you ever fearful of losing control of your classroom when you first introduced play to your teaching?
This is a terrific question. Classroom management is job one of any teacher, but it can be done respectfully and still incorporate play. In fact, I would argue that the fun teacher who offers up innovative teaching techniques can get more respect! Newer teachers and those not familiar with classroom management bring this question up almost immediately when things are planned that are a bit more creative. But never fear! Go for it, with certain guidelines.
We adults love to doodle and fidget, especially in boring meetings. Adults play. Play is natural. All advanced animal species naturally play. Kids are the same way! So give them the first 10-15 minutes to explore free play with the manipulatives before giving the directions. It will help them get their wiggles out and they will be more open to instruction.
Have things planned out. Decide well in advance what your goals and objectives are. Make them clear to the kiddos.
Respect is a two-way street. To expect respect, give respect. Never demean kids. Be kind, and talk with them privately so that you do not embarrass them in front of their peers. Use the adult analogy again… how would YOU feel in an adult situation where your superior at work demeaned you in front of others?
Can you give an example of how play allowed for a breakthrough for a student or students?
Oh my gosh, yes! One of my all-time favorite examples is this: I was teaching 4th grade. It was St. Patrick’s Day, so I tossed a desk or two over, and put down some green glitter as I did every year. Of course… there were suspected leprechauns that had invaded our classroom! I was playing! But I also kept a straight face when questioned by my students. Did I do this? Well, of course not! Even 4th graders are not 100% sure if leprechauns can mess up a classroom if we allow them to keep their imaginations healthy! Anyhow, we cleaned up the mess and started on with our day, as I had year-in and year-out on St. Patrick’s Day. But this class was different. I had begun to incorporate more play and more gifted techniques. They were so bothered by the morning’s event that I had to stop teaching the planned lessons. I asked them how they were planning to solve this problem that had clearly bothered them all morning – to the point where they could not focus on anything else. They were crystal clear in their answer: they planned to put me on trial! So we did it. We appointed a student judge, student jury and even student attorneys. Students from other classes were subpoenaed and testified. The class was ‘sequestered’ at lunch and overnight to not discuss the case. All other plans were tossed out for 2 days and we learned jurisprudence. And I was found...NOT GUILTY!
What role does laughter play in your classroom, if any?
Research has shown, time and again, that laughter can help with healing, happiness and satisfaction in life and marriages. And even if none of that were true, this much is: not to be too dark, but no one gets out of this life alive. So why not enjoy the ride? Laugh!! Smile! And if that is an unnatural feeling for you, fake it until you make it. It will become as natural as breathing air soon. Frankly, it may be almost as important as air. Refer to the movie Patch Adams for a refresher course.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a teacher?
There are two, both from my parents, career award-winning educators. Mom, Sharon Napshin, always told me that I need to consider the child first in all of my decisions. If I did that, I would not make any poor decisions in teaching. So, to do that, I sometimes sit in a student’s seat when a kiddo is absent. I will grade papers or consult with children… from a child’s desk. It will quickly remind any teacher of what it feels like to be a child. To keep it always in the forefront of my mind, I have a copy of The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died, But Teacher You Went Right On by Albert Cullum.
The second piece of advice is from my dad, Barry Napshin. He told me to "Save my little piece of the world every day," and that if each one of us did that, the world would be saved. My little piece of the world is sitting in my classroom every day. Where is your "little piece of the world?" Find it… and get busy!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding parts of my job are in my bank account, of course! Well, not exactly! My kiddos, and the fact that I am now teaching with a colleague that I actually taught 3rd grade to is pretty cool! And I am now teaching the kids of kids that I taught! Another cool thing is becoming friends with kids who are now married and having their own families. If you stick with this career, it can have some pretty epic payouts! Be careful to take care of yourself, though. It is a big job and can eat up your time, your home life and even your summers with training. Keep balance. I keep balance in my life in two ways:
I reevaluate this career choice every 5 years to see that I still love it and feel effective at it.
I know for sure if I am at the right school and teaching the right grade level on my drive to work every day. If I am grumpy on the drive, that means time for a change of school, grade level, etc...
How do you achieve balance in regards to testing requirements vs. educating young people?
I am fortunate in that there are not high stakes testing in my position. I am in a support role that makes sure that my kiddos are achieving, so I use accelerated math, etc… This is a fair question for me, though. All teachers and families need to consider the role of high stakes testing. It does not go away, and it has its place in our world. Consider the grandaddies of high-stakes testing: the SAT and ACT. If our kids have not learned some test-taking skills, how to think critically, how to do rigorous math and analyze reading passages, they will be crippled by the time they are in high school. It is all about balance! Work play into your day! Review for a test with a game like Trashketball or Jeopardy! End a novel study of The Tale of Despereaux by turning your classroom into a dungeon for the day! Read The Wild Card : 7 Steps To An Educator’s Creative Breakthrough by Hope and Wade King.
Name something you’re doing now, that you wish you’d incorporated long ago?
There is so much, I would not know where to begin. Becoming a professional educator takes layers, and lessons, and ongoing training. The best things a new teacher needs to keep in mind… they need two essentials to do this important job. They must have heart, to know when to listen and be gentle, and backbone, to know when to stand up and draw the line.
You told me on the phone, you prefer “professional educator” to “teacher.” Can you explain why?
The term "teacher" and the profession of teaching has been so demeaned recently that it makes me sad. I have been in an attorney’s office and knew that I was in the presence of a professional who knew more than me about the law. The same for when I consult my doctor about an illness. However, it is not that way with teaching. Because everyone was a student sitting in a classroom, everyone seems to believe that gives them insight as to the inner workings of this profession, including our legislators! Trust me, this is the farthest thing from the truth! I am a professional educator. So are my colleagues. We know pedagogy and have done extensive and ongoing training. We meet and discuss the latest research. This is definitely a profession. The term ‘teacher’ misses just so much.
What do you do to relieve your stress?
LAUGH and PLAY, of course!
Who inspires you?
My colleagues, my students and the chance to "save my little piece of the world" every day.
How do you jumpstart your creativity?
Lots of online research, looking for new approaches to lessons. I am a member of professional organizations such as Florida Association for the Gifted (FLAG) and National Association for the Gifted (NAGC). I attend and present at conferences. I collaborate with colleagues. I also look at problems and wonder: How will most people view this? And how can I approach it completely differently?
Can you share anything memorable that a student of yours has shared with you?
One student who could not afford a gift at the end of the year gave me a rose he had snipped off of a neighbor’s bush. He told me that he wanted to thank me for helping him with math. I will never forget that sweet gift. I hope the neighbor didn’t mind!
Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask you about?
Good luck on your journey into the greatest profession of all time! Remember to laugh, especially when you don’t feel like it. There is joy in every day.
Thank you, Ms. Quale!