Academic journal article English Journal

Teaching, Giftedness, and Differentiation: A Reflection

Academic journal article English Journal

Teaching, Giftedness, and Differentiation: A Reflection

Article excerpt

On the other side of the door

I don't have to go alone.

If you come, too, we can sail tall ships

And fly where the wind has flown.


Part I. Schoolgirl

[The] misunderstanding assumes that "assimilating" necessarily means "becoming similar to" what one absorbs, and not "making something similar" to what one is, making it one's own, appropriating or reappropriating it. Between these two possible meanings, a choice must be made, and first of all on the basis of a story whose horizon has to be outlined.

-Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

Memories of elementary school are punctuated by my experiences in our town's gifted enrichment program. Beginning in second grade I was pulled out of my classroom one morning or afternoon a week, bused to another school, and invited to take part in classes and activities. Our motley crew assembled each week from across the district, the aspirational children of a conservative, working-class community. It was 1980, and school for me was both safe house and prison. I loved the place of school, and the promise of what could happen there, and sometimes, I loved what really did happen. School gave my life structure and meaning, an order that was often absent in my chaotic home. School also connected me to larger ideas, books, people; school offered and continues to offer the best hope of redemption in my life. How did the early labeling of "giftedness" affect my experience? How did it color my motivations, my desires, and developing identity? In contrast, my brother, younger by two years, was identified early as in need of "special services." He has told me of his love for his speech teacher, who was also the Indian Education counselor at our elementary school, and beloved by children for more than 40 years. Our paths, his and mine, were widely divergent throughout public schooling, echoing those initial labels of "accelerated" and "behind."

I experienced schooling and the receipt of my giftedness label through De Certeau's perspectives of assimilation. I struggled with the hypocrisy created in the tension between an expectation that I assimilate into schooling and a label that identified me as different from "normal" students. As a child I understood that I needed to "become similar to," and yet my assigned label was a reminder of the distances I failed to traverse. School life contained implicit, hidden boundaries. I lacked the power to reappropriate schooling. Over time I gave up trying to make the experience change for me. Where I failed, my brother succeeded. Over years I watched as he incorporated his "specialness" into an identity as class clown, as charming, and as popular. Conversely, I lefthigh school feeling alone.

When I became a teacher I'm not sure what parts of myself were at the forefront: so many personas present at once: a young woman driven to serve and work with urban students; a writer and reader wanting to create a community to share the books she loved; a girl seeking to remake schooling into the safe, inclusive place she dreamed it could be. Meeting my first students in August 1997 I had only scratched the surface of my identity as Teacher. I had yet to articulate who I was, biases and epistemology. I had yet to openly interrogate issues of difference, race, gender, class, privilege, sexuality, and language.

Part II. Miss Teacher

I desired for my classroom to be the space on the "other side of the door," yet I knew only enough to add a veneer of social justice onto teaching practices that embodied a replication of my experiences as a student in public schools. I unknowingly began the journey to create a classroom where I could hear the melodies and harmonies of students' lives. Though this journey has led me to discover and refine teaching with students at the forefront, to seek understanding and action on differentiation, and to recognize the power of the implicit in my words and actions, I began the path in a traditional, teacher-centric English classroom. …

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