I just returned from attending the National Association of Gifted Children’s annual conference, where I saw old friends, started new projects, and just feel filled up with renewal- oh… and I’m tired. Like really, really tired. It’s an odd feeling.
I have been attending the conference since 1994 in Salt Lake, and over the years, I have laughed with, cried with, and touched base with some very special people. Gifted education is a very positive field- we look for strengths in kids and we try to build those strengths. We even see challenges as strengths- and try to find contexts that are helpful. Rather than fixing the child, gifted education struggles to fix the curriculum, the context, the school- all so that the child can grow without being constrained. So many of us are alone in our schools- whether we’re the department of one in a college or the single gifted education teacher in a school, we’re all used to operating independently and with little support. So, it’s always nice when you get us together- we tend to greet each other like the long-lost friends we are.
Some of my graduate school cohort comes regularly, and we have a standing dinner date the first night of the conference. We have known each other for 15+ years from when we were the students hanging together- to now, when we’re the “old ones”. We’ve known each other since before marriage, before divorce, before children, before jobs, and through moves. I have gotten used to everyone looking at my name tag and saying “Where are you, now?”
It’s odd/nice/interesting having a once-a-year relationship with close friends. “How ARE you?” is loaded with expectation for more than the traditional “Oh, fine” that culturally is what one says. We know that we can tell of deaths in the family, divorces, disease, new marriages, books written, promotions and so many other major events. Call it the “Christmas Letter” approach to friendship. Incredible depth, but very little breadth. I shared hopes and dreams that many of my pals here have not asked about, with once-a-year friends as we met each other in the hallways between sessions and talked for the five minutes we had until our next appointment, our next meeting, our next presentation. We either talk between moments- or at the bar until 2:00am like the young adults we haven’t been in quite some time. Intensity is a hallmark of gifted education- and gifted kids.
For ultimately, NAGC is about the work. Those of us who keep attending, year after year- we keep fighting the same fight- how our culture, our schools, and our fellow teachers must learn how critically important it is to recognize the strengths in our children. How we all live through our strengths and that the role of schools is to help children and their parents become empowered to ask for what they need- when what they need is no more nor no less than what any child needs- the right to be respected, the right to grow, and the right to be who they are.
I am the new Chair-Elect of the Special Populations Network, which absolutely thrills me because I can help the organization and schools recognize that children can be more than one thing- they can have autism and still have strengths; they can be from poverty and still have talents; they can be gay and still be worthy of educating and protecting. Schools and our society need to know that abilities and talents come wrapped in so many different packages.
But perhaps the real reason I keep going- year after year- is my belief that when we cut gifted education in the public schools, we are practicing the most blatant racism/classism/ and abilitism that is possible. When my children- who chose their parents fairly well- are denied services in public schools, we will make sure that they get what they need because we are educated and we will make the financial sacrifices as best as we can to help them- and even then, there are limits. But other children- who were born into poverty, or whose parents are so busy trying to learn a new language, or who are ignored because of their skin color- these other children depend on the public schools for whatever talent development they are going to get. If the cure for cancer, or the next lightbulb that doesn’t use mercury, or the next amazing book, is going to be happen, it might get produced by that poor Hispanic child with a learning disability who was given a chance to grow. But to create a system where only children whose parents can pay for challenging outside-of-school activities will have the opportunity to go on … that is just wrong. Wrong. Wrong. From the bottom of my soul and the reason I went into education- wrong.
And so I am renewed with the reason I went into education- to help make a difference in children’s lives; I am renewed by seeing and touching souls with people I care deeply about- but see once a year; and I am renewed with new work- new projects and new coalition-building and new ways to chip away at old fights.
And I’m tired. Such intensity of living and passion and working takes its toll- and the laundry and the grading and bedtimes and autism and Tourette’s- the day to day battles pile up next to the long-term dreams.
Thank you to my husband who dealt with the dragons of autism and Tourette’s while I was gone- who helps me renew on a daily basis- and to my friends and colleagues at NAGC, who remind me that I am not alone- and thank you to my children who remind me daily of why I stay in education.