Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Cryptozoology of Teaching....

 Picture it.  A GIEP (Gifted Individualized Education Plan) meeting for a seventh grader.  The guidance counselor is sitting in on the conversation, and asks the student the obligatory "what do you want to be when you grow up?"  question.  The student responds both quickly and definitively -- "a cryptozoologist!"  

 The guidance counselor shifts his weight uncomfortably - as I had done the first time I had heard of this career aspiration --while simultaneously looking supportive and impressed.  Meanwhile the student's mother shoots what can only be described as a cross between a deathray stare and complete exhaustion at the very mention of the word.   "It's the History Channel's fault," the mother mutters, "Now everybody thinks mermaids are real.The concern in her voice is that "dear-Lord-don't-let-my-child-live-in-my-basement-forever" desperation of many parents of middle schoolers.  

The cool thing for me is that in my world of gifted education, I get to search and find the unicorns, narwhals, mermaids and sasquatches on a daily basis.  For me, teaching is cryptozoology.

 The Te@chthought blog challenge today made me smile:

Day 18

Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a “teacher is a ________…”

Teaching is cryptozoology.
([krip-toh-zoh-ol-uh-jee])  noun

1.  the study of evidence tending to substantiate the existence of, or the search for, creatures whose reported existence is unproved, as the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness monster.
I take a fair amount of kidding for the fascination I have with unicorns when I talk about my caseload of students.  The people who know me well know that the unicorn represents that inner genius in each of the kids I serve.  It is my job to find that unproven animal and, as the folks at so eloquently put it, "substantiate the existence of...".  
What I have learned over the last sixteen years in my work as Teacher of the Gifted (Not the Gifted Teacher), has only extended my credentials in cryptozoology.  
Apparently TsOG (Teachers of the Gifted) are graced with a certain ability to either see something that others can't see, or believe that there is hidden genius in every gifted kid, even if that kid is failing math because he overthinks every problem because it is so easy, it's hard.  
True story:  I had a third grade student who consistently failed the posted word problem question that resembled this:  "Tom has three pizzas to share with the class.  Sally has two pizzas.  How many pizzas are there for the class to share?"  
THREE?  The classroom teacher was overwhelmed with concern.  She repeated the question with pies and cakes, varying the quantities and individuals involved, yet the logic never changed.  She finally appeared in my doorway demanding to know how a gifted kid could get such a simple question wrong.
Eventually I asked the kid to explain the reasoning behind his answer.  And yes, you guessed it, the problem did not lie in the math.  It was clearly SALLY'S fault.  She's selfish.  Nowhere did the problem indicate that Sally was willing to share.
Our solution was simple enough.  We created a mythical problem-solving technique for the mythical creature known as this gifted child:  "Implied Logic."
You see, the way to reach gifted kids -- and probably any kid for that matter -- is to go where they are, and lead them out.  
That year, I taught an entire lesson on Implied Logic.  It's a secret, so not everybody knows about it.   We have to figure out what kind of test we're taking to figure out what kind of answer is expected.  In this case, if the front of the test booklet says 3rd grade Mathematics, we know they aren't trying to trip us up in our critical reading skills.    It worked.  He scored at the top of the charts on the all-important standardized test, graduated, and is now enjoying the spoils of $180,000 scholarship to college.  He also referenced the importance of Implied Logic to the school board in a presentation he gave before graduation.  It was after that speech that his mother and I came clean and explained that Implied Logic was a figment of my imagination.  (Or is it real?)

Cryptozoology is teaching -- at its finest.  When you choose to see unicorns, the magic begins.