This is the time to swallow your pride, control your anger and approach the teacher with a collaborative spirit. Consider wording your comments so that you convey respect for the teacher’s dedication, expertise, and competing demands. Think about how to express your concerns in a manner that respects the teacher's knowledge and experience. If your child's teacher feels that you appreciate the daily stress and many obligations he or she faces, you may be able to gain trust more easily. Let the teacher know that you are very aware that little Johnny is not the ONLY child in the classroom, that the teacher has many children who need support, and that potential solutions to the problem will take that reality into account.
3. Explain your child to the teacher. Help the teacher understand more about your child, especially if your child’s abilities or learning needs are overlooked. Many gifted children who do not fit typical stereotypes (such as the highly verbal and high achieving student) may not be recognized as gifted, or their behaviors could be mistaken as indicative of a more serious problem, such as an emotional disturbance, or attentional problem. Since many teachers have little training or understanding of giftedness, it may be up to you to educate them.
Portray your child in as clear and unbiased a manner as possible, flaws and all, but framed within a context of giftedness. “I’m aware that Johnny seems like a typical ‘asynchronous’ kid; sort of immature socially, so his ability to think deeply stays hidden.” “I know that Susie talks a lot in class and gets distracted. I realize this can be a problem. I’ve found at home that when she is immersed in a project she likes, she gets much more focused, and she quiets down for a while!”
4. Ask for feedback from the teacher. Respect the teacher’s knowledge. Appreciate that the teacher gets to view your child in a different context for seven hours a day, and may have some useful information to offer. Ask for ideas about what the teacher thinks would enhance your child’s educational experience. “What thoughts do you have about offering Johnny more intensive writing opportunities without it appearing like extra homework (which we know he would resist)?” “Given Susie’s math abilities, what course of action do you think would be the best for helping her continue to blossom in this area?” “What are your thoughts about having some of the gifted students work on projects together, so they can at least bounce ideas off of each other in a small group?”
Requesting the teacher's input shows respect and your willingness to collaborate. You also will learn how well he or she truly knows your child, what solutions seem feasible, and how likely it is that actual change may occur (and whether you may need to increase your advocacy efforts or change direction).
5. Acknowledge what is working. Let the teacher know what your child enjoys. Use this as a springboard for encouraging more of the same. “Susie was absolutely thrilled with the last science project. She loved getting to research the topic in such depth. Will there be more opportunities for this in the future?” "Johnny was so excited to go to the third grade math class. He really loved the challenge, and we're so glad that the school agreed to accelerate him." Inform the teacher about improvements you have seen in your child. Ask for the teacher’s input with respect to what he or she believes is working as well.
Recognize that your child's teacher is trying hard to manage a classroom full of individual needs. Let the teacher know that you realize how constrained he or she must be in terms of competing demands, and suggest changes that would not only benefit your child, but also might make life less complicated within the classroom. For example, subject acceleration where your child leaves for another class within the same building requires a lot less effort than having the teacher administer an individualized program tailored to your child's academic needs.
Ultimately, advocacy for all gifted children and widespread change in how gifted education is implemented is needed. But until then, you have the day-to-day dilemma of working with your child’s teacher. And the sooner you form a partnership, the more likely you will achieve productive results.