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What Should You Tell the Teacher About Your Gifted Child?

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Updated June 18, 2014

Students in Science Class Doing an Experiment
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When summer winds down and school is about to start, parents of gifted children begin to wonder whether they should say anything to the teacher about their child's abilities or wait and see if the teacher recognizes the abilities on his or her own. There is no easy answer to that question, but parents can consider the pros and cons of each approach to determine which answer is best for their situation.

Tell the Teacher

Advantages
  • No time is wasted.
    A teacher can address the child's academic needs from the beginning of the school year. The child will be learning with appropriately challenging material.

  • Misdiagnosis is less likely.
    Because a bored gifted child can look very much like a child with ADHD, keeping a child challenged from the start will make it less likely that a child will be misdiagnosed with ADHD (or some other disorder). Once a misdiagnosis is made, it is extremely difficult to change it, and that diagnosis follows the child throughout his or her school years.

  • Teachers can learn about giftedness.
    Some teachers welcome the opportunity to learn about gifted children and their needs and enjoy having them in their classrooms. When a parent mentions giftedness to the teacher at the beginning of the year, the teacher has a chance to learn about gifted children and their academic needs. They also have a chance to plan lessons ahead of time rather than having to figure out what to do with a child once the school year has gotten under way.
Disadvantages
  • Teacher may see the parent as a pushy parent.
    Some teachers are suspicious when they are told that a child is smart. They may believe that the parent is just one more pushy parent who thinks their average child is brilliant. Instead of providing the child with more challenging work, the teacher may expect the child to complete all assignments perfectly and use the lack of perfection to "prove" that the child is not as smart as the parent believes.

  • Teacher may be resentful and react negatively.
    Some teachers believe that they are professional and experienced enough to recognize a gifted child when they see one and don't always appreciate a parent telling them that their child is gifted. Of course, unless a teacher has training in gifted education, they may not recognize gifted children, but that doesn't change the fact that teachers may feel somewhat professionally insulted.

  • Some teachers don't like gifted children.
    While some teachers love to work with gifted children, others don't. Those who don't may treat the child with less respect than he or she treats the other children.

Don't Tell the Teacher

Advantages
  • Parent will not look like a pushy parent.
    When the teacher takes the initiative in recognizing a child's high ability, he or she is more likely to believe that the child is gifted rather than a hothoused child of average ability whose parents have been pushing.

  • Teacher will not be alienated.
    Parents who tell the teacher that their child is gifted often risk alienating the teacher, who may then treat the child more negatively than he or she might otherwise have done. Some of the alienation comes from resentment of pushy parents and some comes from disliking being told that a child needs special treatment.
Disadvantages
  • Child is overlooked.
    This is perhaps the greatest disadvantage. Unless the child looks like what the teacher expects a gifted child to look like, the teacher may not recognize a child as gifted. Underachieving gifted students are often missed because they aren't the top achievers in the class.

  • Child is inaccurately labeled.
    If a highly gifted child is not appropriately challenged and begins to misbehave, that child may be labeled as an ADHD child. Inaccurate labels need not be official. That is, a teacher may simply classify the child as lazy or immature or as a troublemaker or daydreamer. Once seen in those terms, a child has a hard time looking like anything else in the teacher's eyes and parents will have a very difficult time convincing the teacher that the child needs more challenging work.
Clearly, there is no easy answer to whether or not to tell the teacher that a child is gifted or wait to see if the teacher sees it for herself. However, there are some things to take into consideration as you ponder the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Other Factors to Consider
  • Your child's personality and temperament.
    Children who misbehave when they get frustrated are more likely to be seen as immature or as having ADHD than those who sit still and control their emotional reaction to frustration. Children who are complacent and never complain even though they are bored will rarely be recognized as needing more challenging work.

  • Your child's willingness to work and level of academic achievement.
    A child who completes assignments and gets good grades more closely matches the stereotypical gifted child than does the child who resists doing less than challenging work and gets less than stellar grades.

  • Teacher's background and familiarity with gifted children.
    Teachers who have some training in gifted education and are familiar with gifted children are far more likely to recognize gifted underachievers and gifted children who act out on their boredom and frustration. These teachers also tend to be more open-minded when a parent suggests that his or her child needs more academically challenging work.
Do you think your child might be misunderstood or missed or do you think that your child might be easily recognized? Evaluating your child might push you closer to making one decision rather than the other, but it's also important to consider the teacher and the teacher's background.

Whether you talk to your child's teacher at the beginning of the school year or later, you'll want to follow some basic tips for talking to your child's teacher.
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