Living with Intensity

I’m been reading the most therapeutic professional text I’ve seen in a while. When I first checked out Living with Intensity, everyone laughed at me — my husband, my colleagues, even my students (I post in our classroom what I’m currently reading). They thought I was reading a book that would teach me how to be even MORE intense. Rest assured, that’s not the case.

Instead, Living with Intensity is a guide about how to nurture gifted children, adolescents, and adults to channel their quirks and use them for good. I say it’s therapeutic because as I’m reading, I’m also finding elements that apply to me in my adult life. The authors are always cognizant of toeing the line between helping students cope in a neurotypical society while being careful not to dampen students’ gifts. This part of the book DIRECTLY related to a conversation we had in class earlier this week:

One way that parents and teachers can best support gifted children in their development is by recognizing that emotional growth and personal growth are a necessary part of the educational process (Roeper, 2004b, 2007; Piechowski, 2006). Most educators and parents these days seem to believe that, for gifted children, emphasis must be placed first and foremost on their intellectual development. But intellectual development rests on the development of the child’s Self, on his or her insights and deeper sensitivities. In fact, we cannot separate one from the other. It is this very separation that makes gifted children experience stress as a negative force. (p. 81, emphasis mine)

I really want to copy some of these ideas and share them at conferences later this month. For example:

There is another dimension of how stress affects gifted children. They not only receive stress, they also create it. Gifted children create a kind of discomfort in their surroundings, for by their mere existence, they uncover shortcomings. They question and challenge traditions and the status quo and are not comfortable doing things just because everyone else is doing them. Their experiences are unconventional; their needs are not typical, and society — many schools and other institutions — is unable to fulfill them… The gifted do not accept neat, simple categories; they expect society to think in complex ways, as they do. They expect society to look honestly at itself and to perceive things about itself that it cannot and does not want to see.(p. 79, emphasis mine)

I’m sure there will be more as I continue reading, but I needed to share these publicly. Additionally, there’s apparently a family guide and a teen guide available from the same editors. It seems like these are the more current, in-depth version of the Gifted Survival Guide.

Yesterday, a primary teacher told me how lucky my students were to have me as their GATE teacher. Normally, when I hear comments like that, I blow them off because praise makes me feel really uneasy, especially when I feel like I’m just doing my job. But she looked at me and said, “You know exactly what they’re going through, you know how to listen to them.” She shrugged and sliced some math work on the paper cutter. “I wouldn’t have the first idea of what to say to them, much less teach them.”

I realized she was right. Ever since I received my position as the gifted/talented teacher, I had been doubting my beliefs. Did gifted students really deserve a more challenging, “better” education than their peers? Was it “fair” to have a gifted teacher working with students who are already meeting standard when there are dozens of other students struggling who could benefit from her support? I would honestly not be alive today if it were not for the gifted and talented support system I developed in high school, but now I fretted that maybe the gifted program wasn’t what was best for kids.

When I was applying for the 2/3 GATE position and right after I received the job, I’d heard plenty of people say things like, “Hey, better you than me” or “You’re the best choice to work with them,” but this moment in the staff workroom was the first time where our educational experiences, both my students and my own, felt validated. We really do have special needs, and we really do benefit from this least-restrictive learning environment. I can’t wait to see what we achieve this year.

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