By Jim Delisle
When I first began working with gifted kids in 1978, I had no idea that I’d still be doing so 36 years later. Those first gifted 4th-5th graders I taught in Stafford Springs, Connecticut are now closer to their retirements than their college graduations. That should make me feel old (OK…I am old!), but thanks to a decision I made more than 20 years ago, my vitality remains. That decision?: to never be more than a week away from teaching gifted kids.
My career trajectory led me from the elementary classroom to the college lecture hall, a much easier place to teach. There are no parent phone calls to return while teaching college, and discipline problems are minimal. Still, I found something lacking in teaching my graduate students. It wasn’t that they weren’t sincere in wishing to earn their degrees, it’s just that they were all so…predictable. And if there’s one thing I learned while teaching gifted kids, it was that predictability was not a quality that many of them possessed. “Quirky” (yes, that would fit), “spontaneous” (…maybe that’s why I could never get through my intended lesson without several student-led detours) and “intense” (couldn’t any of them, just once, practice the fine art of intellectual moderation?). The longer I worked with gifted kids and teens, the more I came to appreciate that the vigor they displayed while engaged in learning something new and relevant had an unexpected impact on me–their excitement became a non-prescription elixir that served as my personal fountain of youth. Thanks to gifted kids, I may look my age, yet I neither think nor act it. Thanks to gifted kids, I feel like Peter Pan.
If they’re lucky, parents of gifted kids retain this same degree of youth when they interact with their children. I mean how can you not giggle out loud when your 4-year-old daughter asks, “If butter melts yellow, and chocolate melts brown, why doesn’t snow melt white?” It’s a perfectly fine question, based on observational data your gifted kid picked up simply by being alert to the world. The answer to this question may evade you, but just the thought that someone so young has so much intellectual power and curiosity helps keep you mentally robust and alert. And how about when your 15-year-old son wants to engage you in an “oxymoron contest”, with some of his entries being “cafeteria food”, “authentic replicas”, “bigger half” and “Congressional wisdom”. Even if you can’t top these “instant classics” (another oxymoron), the banter between the two of you is bound to make you feel younger than your years.
Three and a half decades of gifted kids have introduced me to countless characters who have changed–indeed, enhanced–my life. I continue to cling to my youth today by doing part-time teaching of highly gifted 9th graders who are enrolled in college and by serving as a “Fellow” at IEA’s camp Yunasa every July, working with gifted 10-14 year olds at a YMCA camp in Michigan. Yeah, my soon-to-be-ancient bones ache when the alarm rings at 5:15 a.m. so I can get to school on time, and sleeping on a plastic-covered camp bed does little to enhance my burgeoning arthritis, yet underneath these physical discomforts remains one of the best feelings in the world: a continuing connection to gifted kids who keep my spirit alive and well.
Seek your own eternal youth: surround yourself with as many gifted kids as you can find.
About Jim Delisle:
Jim Delisle serves on the Board of Directors of IEA and interacts with gifted kids frequently. His upcoming book, Dumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation’s Most Capable Youth, will be published in August, 2014.
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