Sweet home Chicago, hoping to inspire you to learn

Another freewrite night. The topic: write about a place you miss.

I miss my gifted classroom. I miss the bright shining faces of the students who wanted to make changes in the world now. I miss them giving me reports on solar energy and desalinization plants, or building solar ovens, and designing rovers that could scope out Mars. I miss them telling me how the common man in 1850 might treat slaves. “Wouldn’t being a slave master be a respectable thing back then?” I miss them writing about Maya Angelou and caged birds and banned books and the First Amendment.

I miss “speech.” I miss the dialogue in class. What would Mr. Con—who disagreed with every point I made—think? What would a student do had she been confronted with the protests in the late 60s? Would she have chosen to participate and why?

I miss the breadth of gifted units, units on Native Americans, Fighting Oppression, Pippi Longstocking, Encyclopedia Brown, Canaques in the Fourth Man, Ed Zaccaro on mysterious numbers, Algebra, and Statistics. I miss Marilyn Burns on sets and spatial thinking. I miss our unit on Architecture, especially the architectural scavenger hunt where students surveyed the community for classic architectural components, i.e., atriums and arches.

I miss terrific student work products like I-movies, website, dioramas and more: giving a speech as Alexander the Great, designing a diorama on Lemony Snicket, offering up James and the Giant Peach, and frying Native American breads. I miss the drawings of mythological characters and the folktales “around the world.”

I miss the talk backboard. “What’s the purpose behind standardized testing when the standards keep changing?” Why are teachers afraid of smart students?

I miss the real live protests on the black top—why do I have to study chords in music when I’m ready to write a symphony.

I miss the enthusiasm of the students participating in math contests or designing rovers or dressing up as immigrants about to enter Ellis Island.

I miss the Earth Day assembly during which students received awards for planting local gardens or participating in hydroponics.

I miss the parents who used to mill around me on Parent/Teacher nights, politely inquiring how they can extend their children’s thinking, encourage a classroom teacher to differentiate, and challenge their children through gifted programming.

I miss lunch duty. I miss talking to the students through the loud speaker and asking them to thank their parents for sponsoring “fun lunch.” I miss shooting hoops with the students on the playground and watching them play football with their peers.

I miss collaboration with other gifted teachers, writing and testing new units, envisioning how we could support their children and encourage teachers to create learning experiences that are relevant, rigorous in depth, and novel.

Yes. I miss all of this and much more.

But I don’t miss the narrowing of the curriculum, high stakes testing, random discipline and other "control issues," the decision to “de-identify” gifted students, the refusal to consider “social and emotional issues, and the deficit mindset towards students who are twice-exceptional, have second language learning issues and more.

I’ve left the classroom because I believe in an asset-based approach to education. In the 21st Century, I want to see what students can do when they feel valued and their interests are sparked. I want to see true dialogue between students and teachers and peers. I want to see teachers who understand their students and know their students' strengths as well as they know their weaknesses. I want to see smaller classrooms, more field trips through which students can actually see the world as it is, not as it is imaged on a computer screen. I want to see study of other cultures and more second language learning. I want to put an end to one size fits all education.

I want to see collaboration and healthy competition in the classroom and beyond. We have big issues that we have to solve—hunger, water shortages, climate change, disarmament, the global economy, and sadly, war. This has to change. We need to learn how to live in harmony with ourselves and with nature.

In my doctoral program, we’ve studied a lot of Eastern thinkers and much of what they say about harmony and balance and respect makes sense.

In the end, I want to see happy and fruitful learning. I miss the gifted classroom, but my new place and new goals beckon: how can I make school a positive learning experience.

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