Interview with a Gifted Kid: Rachel

In this installment of the Interview with a Gifted Kid series, we’ll meet Rachel, an 8th grader from a small midwestern town.

I think you’ll find her insights as interesting and powerful as I did.

The Interview with a Gifted Kid Series

As part of my mission to make the world safe for the gifted, I interview gifted kids (and grown-up gifted kids) and share their stories of life in Giftedland.

My hope is that it will create a body of voices that will be persuasive that gifted students have needs, that giftedness isn’t some “get out of hardship in school free” card, and that it will give hope to gifted individuals that they are not alone.

If you’d like to be interviewed, please contact me. I want the stories told.

If you’d like to read all of the stories, you can find them here.

Let’s jump in to my interview with Rachel. Her name has been changed and her location generalized to protect her privacy.

When did you first realize you were gifted or hear the term “gifted”?

In first grade, I was sent to a different spelling class. It was not a big deal.

Half-way through second grade, two other kids and I were taken to another class and told, “This is going to be your math class from now on.”

They didn’t use the word “gifted.” We were told we were different in a long talk from the teachers. They said that it doesn’t mean you’re smarter, you just have more skills in this area.

I never heard the term “gifted” until my mom, who is teacher, was put into the gifted position at her school.

The program at my school is not called “gifted” – it’s called by an acronym.

That keeps kids from saying, “You’re better than us.”

Note: Rachel saw this as very positive. On the other hand, my blood was boiling at this.

I strenuously object to the idea that gifted kids need to be called some other super generic term or unintelligible acronym so that others don’t feel badly about themselves.

It highlights the difference between how we treat giftedness from students who excel in arts and athletics.

We don’t make sure that the orchestra players don’t know who’s best or call the first-chair violinist by some silly abbreviation so no one feels badly that they’re not the best.

I also think it’s stupid. The other kids know who you are and what it means.

I disagree that it doesn’t mean you’re smarter. There’s nothing wrong with being smart, and there’s nothing wrong with being typical in intelligence – that’s normal.

I find it deeply distressing that in their attempt to make sure others don’t feel badly, the school plays down the ability of these students and seeks to minimize it.

I asked Rachel, “Don’t the other kids figure it out?”

She answered, “The teachers do a good job making it seem normal.”

That’s lovely. Guess what? It is normal.

You’re in eighth grade now. What’s the program like for you now?

We still go to a separate, smaller class for math. It used to be for math and reading, but now it’s just math.

We’re doing algebra, and when we get to high school, we have to test out of it.

When we had a separate reading class, we had less read aloud and more advanced things to read.

In high school, there are only a few programs because the school is so small.

There’s no AP English, for example, so we’ll have to advocate for ourselves.

Note to schools: If you’re going to offer advanced classes to younger gifted students (as you absolutely should), making them test out of it after taking the class is silly.

If you don’t trust your curriculum or teachers, that’s a bigger problem, and it’s not the problem of the students.

This isn’t an issue like an AP class where colleges can’t know what happened. You can know.

How was giftedness explained to you?

I was told I had more skills and needed more challenge.

How did being gifted affect making friends?

In a small town, you have people who are in your class, and that class is small.

They’re not switching out the next year. You have to deal with them.

I have a lot of friends in the program, and I’ve also made friends outside the program. That’s good.

People assume that just because you’re in the program, you’ll be friends.

But that’s not true. I’m not into sports, so I have friends who aren’t into sports.

With kids in the program, I can talk with them about books, but I have a strong interest in art.

I talk with kids outside the program about that.

I have three best friends, two in the program, one not.

It’s a non-issue for the one not in the program.

What about being gifted caused hardship or was hard for you?

One of the hardest things is that I’ve had a lot of teachers who don’t understand what it means to be gifted.

They think it means you can deal with everything by yourself.

If you ask someone for help, they’re like “Oh, you can figure it out.”

Note: I’ve written about this specifically in the article Being Gifted Doesn’t Mean You Don’t need to be Taught.

Some teachers will give you special treatment because you’re good at things. I don’t want special treatment.

Also, group projects are really hard.

They put one student who struggles with school with a gifted student, and then we end up copying answers.

Note: I clarified, “So you mean, you do all of the work, and they copy your work and get the grade you earned?”

“Yes.”

Note: I’ve written about this, too.

How did you experience other people’s expectations of you?

I’m a perfectionist.

I tend to go above and beyond in everything.

It’s not necessarily good for me.

I’ve created the expectation that I’m always going to be there and always trying to help everybody.

I will try, but there will be a time I can’t help you.

If friends need help with something, it can cause a problem.

Like right now, we’re having school outside of school.

I was working on math, and a friend needed help with social studies.

I had to say, “I can’t help you right now.”

They weren’t super happy.

I’m learning to say “no” or “not right now.”

I realized it was a problem when I couldn’t let things go anymore.

I would fulfill the requirements and then add extra information and then add pictures then make sure it looked nice.

I was so overwhelmed.

My parents were like, “You don’t have to do that. You can say I fulfilled the requirements. That’s good enough.”

I’ve had to learn to ask, “Is this something I’m doing because I want to do it or something I’m doing to feel like a good person?”

It was a false expectation I was putting on myself.

Most teachers saw the pressure it was putting on me and were happy when I started to pull back on that.

Note: As you’re probably aware, I wrote an entire book about perfectionism, and Rachel’s attitude is what I hope people will arrive at in the end.

I love how her parents and teachers supported her in this.

If you could go back and tell your younger self something, what would it be?

Be who you are, and if someone tells you that who you are is wrong, then they’re the ones who have the problem, not you.

I had issues when I was younger.

I was always kind of a wild kid. I liked to play different games than other kids.

I was always open about my opinions.

Some people really did not like that.

I’m realizing now that hiding my opinions wasn’t something I should have had to do.

If people don’t like who you are, you don’t have to change for them.

What did the school do right?

They do a good job of trying to put us in math bees and different things like that – competitive academics.

It depends upon what’s available because it’s a small community.

Taking us out earlier (in second grade) was good. I was bored in normal class.

I kept thinking, “What am I doing here?”

They’ve changed it now and they don’t do it until third grade, but second was better because I was able to challenge myself and continue learning.

What could the school have done differently?

I wish that we would educate teachers on what giftedness is and the difference between being ahead in school and being ahead in emotional development.

They’re not the same thing.

There’s never been any discussion about the social and emotional side of giftedness.

I wish they’d work on equipping teachers to differentiate more in the classroom.

There may not be resources for a pullout, so it’s needed.

I think a lot of teachers don’t differentiate because they don’t know how and don’t want to try.

I wish I could tell them, “Please do. Even if it doesn’t work out, we appreciate that you tried. Maybe we try something different. At least we know you tried.”

Note: I loved, loved, loved this! I wish I’d been recording it so I could play it at every professional development. Just try!

Can you tell the teachers who are gifted?

There was a teacher in my school who had a gifted son, and that teacher had a huge impact on my life.

She came up to us and said, “Hey, if you ever need anything, I’m here.”

She wasn’t even our teacher, but she defended us.

I was openly picked on in class, and teachers said, “Oh, whatever,” and ignored it.

How do you think being gifted will influence your future?

I’ll choose as many classes in high school as possible that will challenge me. I’ll do lots of academic things.

I would like to attend a Christian college, preferably.

When I get married, they’re going to have to be okay with the fact that I don’t understand when things are hard for people.

I try to do things that don’t come easily for me to help me understand.

If we have kids who don’t learn very easily, they’re going to have to help them.

I’d like to become an advocate for gifted kids. Sort of like you. I really admire what you’ve written and what you’ve done.

Note: I was crying for the next part of the interview after hearing this from a student, but I don’t think she could tell.

I want people to understand what it’s like to be a gifted kid. People think you have the best life because school comes easy.

Yes, it does, but social and emotional things don’t come easily.

I would like to help build an understanding of how to help with those things.

How have your parents helped you manage your giftedness?

My dad was a gifted as a kid, and he’s much better with the social aspect than I am, and he’s really helped me with that.

They try to challenge me. Just because it’s hard, I don’t get to quit.

I think, “Oh, this is hard, I’m done.”

They make sure to remind us that because things might come easily, you might not see when people are trying hard, so pay attention and be kind and be careful about what you say.

Note: Isn’t this lovely? This is just lovely. I went and told my husband about this part.

If my children are gifted, I’m for sure going to make sure they are able to be in a program and that they are able to continue learning and don’t just hit a wall with their learning.

I’m going to encourage them to talk through things out loud because that’s something I struggle with – how to talk to people and how to relate to people.

I believe that kids who grow up to become healthy adults need to continue learning and being challenged.

They also need to have friends.

School will be miserable if you don’t have friends.

If you never learn how to make friends, it gets really hard.

Some naturally make friends, and some don’t.

I want to encourage parents and teachers to not be afraid to speak up for a kid if they’re getting pushed around by an adult or by a student.

Don’t just sit back and be quiet.

That makes the kid think they’re in this by themselves.

Whether you talk to the kid or the person they’re being talked to by, make sure you let them know you are there.

Sometimes that’s all the kid needs.

Note: Again, I love this. I love the idea that it doesn’t matter what your role is. You can make kids feel less alone.

Adults should show an interest in things besides their giftedness.

Sure, I’m gifted. But there are other things about me too.

I love to sew. A lot of people don’t look past it. They think, “Oh you’re gifted, math and reading must be your favorite things.”

Not exactly…

What’s your favorite book? I know it’s not a fair question, but just give me a couple that you like.

When I was younger – like in first grade – I loved The Report Card by Andrew Comments.

Now, I recommend Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. 

I don’t like re-reading, but I’ve read it three times.

Note: I’ve added these to the recommended books in my Amazon book lists you can find here https://www.amazon.com/shop/gifted_guru (affiliate links).

Wrapping Up:

Rachel’s insights for adults, both parents and teachers, were amazing.

Her recommendation that teachers just go for it with differentiation was truly wonderful. I loved how she said, “We’ll be glad you tried.”

This.

When she shared her parents’ thoughts that you might not see when people are trying hard, so pay attention and be kind and be careful about what you say, I wanted to make a t-shirt of it.

What great parents!

Rachel is so grounded and so lovely.

It broke my heart that she felt it was a good thing that one of the things the school did best was something I consider a rejection of the gifted.

It was like, “Oh, it’s good you’re gifted, but we’ll just keep that on the DL, shall we?”

Being told that she admired what I do to advocate for gifted kids warmed my heart, and I felt inspired by her insights into the needs of gifted children.

I hope you enjoyed the article, and if you would like to be interviewed, please let me know!

Adults or kids (with parental permission) are welcome.

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