Back to School Tips for Teachers and Parents of Gifted Kids

Alicia and me
Alicia and me–Sorry, I couldn’t get a photo of her teaching.

My niece, Alicia, is a middle school English teacher. She loves, I mean LOVES, her job. I can imagine her in a classroom finding creative and sensitive ways to meet the needs of all of her little darlings. She’s the teacher we all want. The teacher who will change us in unexpected ways.

I’m guessing that you had one of those teachers and that you remember his or her name. That you’re grateful for the kindness or the intellectual excitement or the books s/he put into your hands.

I was a teacher, too, when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. Sixth grade, at first. Then I became a TAG (talented and gifted) teacher. I had the amazing opportunity to work with small groups of curious, funny, super-smart kids. One of them (now in his 40s) found me on Facebook the other day and sent me a note of appreciation. I’ve heard from others, too. It’s so gratifying to know that I made a difference for some of them all of those years ago.

And now another school year begins. So I wonder. How do we support our teachers? How can we support the ones who are sensitive, creative, and flexible and who love their jobs and our kids? How can we help the teachers who are overwhelmed and anxious, who are misunderstanding the needs of our rainforest-minded sweeties? How can we influence society to prioritize the importance of education for all children?

I guess if I knew the answers to those questions I wouldn’t be sitting here at my kitchen table with my itty-bitty blog. I’d be a much-sought-after keynoter at conferences with titles like: Elite Athletes and Celebrities Turn their Earnings Over to Teachers Conference.


Instead, well, here are some starter ideas for teachers:

photo courtesy of Alicia
photo courtesy of Alicia

It won’t take much to get your gifted students to adore you. Listen to them. Let them know that you appreciate how hungry they are to learn, then find ways to feed them. Bring extra books, materials and mentors into your classroom. Have flexible deadlines for projects. Let them work with other gifted kids. Eliminate assignments that teach what they already know and replace them with projects that tap into their interests. Consider that they may have learning disabilities along with their giftedness; don’t be afraid to get input from parents. Notice when they’re overwhelmed or emotional and appreciate their tender sensitivities. Let them work at their own pace whenever possible. Don’t assume that they’re lazy if they’re not turning in assignments. You don’t have to answer all of their questions; just love their curiosity and guide them to multiple resources. Let your enthusiasm for your subject matter show. You won’t be perfect; understand that if they correct your mistakes that they aren’t gloating, there’s no intention to embarrass you. You can find some teaching materials here and here.

And information for parents:

Here are some articles that will help you advocate for your children. From NAGC. This. And this. And from psychologist, Gail Post’s blog.

For both teachers and parents:

The work that you do for children is extraordinarily important and you’re often not recognized or appreciated for it. It can be exhausting and overwhelming. Be sure to find ways to nourish yourself. Feed your own hungry soul what it needs. And, as my niece Alicia writes, “…these kiddos teach me everyday about the capacity of the human spirit and remind me to ‪#‎chooselove‬!”

Choose love.


To my blogEEs: Please share your success stories about teaching and schooling. Let us know what works and how we can get athletes and celebrities to fork over their dough.


Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

28 responses to “Back to School Tips for Teachers and Parents of Gifted Kids”

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  12. Shin Shin Tang Avatar
    Shin Shin Tang

    Hi Paula, Just found your lovely blog that I will now be following! I am a mom of a new kindergartener as well as a counselor. What I keep hearing from friends and in the news how 4J schools are failing to address the needs of gifted children, or other special needs kids for that matter. Why do you think there is no “cluster teaching” (is that the right term?) or grouping of TAG kids in grade school? It seems like this would be a low cost solution that would not require many more resources. Not being a teacher, is there something I’m missing? Thanks!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Great question. It’s called “cluster grouping” and it’s a great simple solution. I think people resist it because they think it’s the same as “tracking” which people claim hurts the slower learners and stigmatizes them. Teachers also don’t want to put the gifted kids in groups with one teacher because they like having them in their classes to use as role models. Grouping can also be discriminatory if teachers don’t identify gifted kids who are from minority populations. So the resistance is complicated. But cluster grouping should be flexible; it doesn’t just have to be for gifted kids. Depending on the subject, kids are placed together who have strengths in certain areas and then in other subjects, the groupings are different. But I have to say that my bias is that, in elementary school, the gifted kids should be cluster grouped with the teacher who has extra training in giftedness and/or who is more sensitive, creative and flexible in his/her teaching style. That’s the model that I know of that would give them the best opportunity to learn more and at their faster pace and generally find school to be satisfying. Thanks for following my blog!

  13. Charley Avatar

    Great tips.
    I home ed now but wish my son had had this kind of support instead we got “we can see his potential!” And on the most memorable sad occasion “oh his Sats results are too high we may have to lower them or he won’t get a statement of need any more” understandably I cried at this ! They didn’t get lowered in the end as I kept a close watch & didn’t lose his statement either especially as his statement was to do with his apraxia not intelligence !
    It’s nice to see tips from real caring teachers and reassuring that they do still exist. (hope Alicia and kids have a great term)

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Charley, for sharing your experience.

  14. holbart Avatar

    I’m very thankful for my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Sorgan. It’s strange because I don’t really have many specific memories of her, but rather, I have a deeply felt sense of connection to her. It’s like I remember her on a deep, cellular, almost unconscious level. There is still real attachment there. . .

    My family was going through a crazy time when I was in third grade. My mom and step-dad were divorcing, and we moved to a new town in the middle of a semester, where Mrs. Sorgan’s school was. My mom and I moved in with her parents in a teeny-tiny trailer. I slept with my mom, while my older half-siblings went to live with their biological father. We had no money. And, yet, it was a year I really thrived academically.

    I remember reading on Silverman’s Gifted Development website how students with strong right-brain development are very sensitive to interpersonal dynamics with a teacher. This was so very true for me. Third grade was the year I was placed in a gifted program. She was just able to draw out what was already inside me.

    Thank you, Mrs. Sorgan

    I’m wondering if anyone else has any fond memories of teachers who really supported your giftedness?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Beautiful, holbart. I was hoping that this post would reach lots of people who might share these types of stories. So far, it hasn’t been read or passed around a lot. I’d love teachers to get the message of how much they’re appreciated and how they can help their gifted kiddos. But, given time, maybe it’ll get around. Thanks!

  15. frenchc1955 Avatar

    This is an extraordinary article, and I wish I had experienced the kind of teachers you describe when I was a child. Your ideas are excellent and, more than that, essential for expanding success in the classroom.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Charles. I’m hoping this one gets shared a lot. I want teachers to feel appreciated and also to get this information on ways to support their gifted students. I always enjoy hearing from you!

  16. Ro Avatar

    That is a beautiful photo of you and Alicia, Pamela. I can feel the pride you have in your niece and the amazing work she does. The world needs as many teachers like Alicia as possible. It’s special that you have heard from past students Pamela – I bet you were one of the greats! And still helping gifted children…

    Thank you.

    1. Ro Avatar

      Edit: Paula not Pamela. Apologies, recovering from surgery here.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Take good care of yourself, Ro.

  17. KtCallista Avatar

    For me this is the toughest balance. I want to let my child’s teacher know that I completely respect him/her and their job. I couldn’t do it! I know, I used to volunteer for a few hours a week and then go back to work, or home and collapse. At the same time, I can’t just let my RFM kids get overlooked or only engaged a few hours a week. That’s not right for them either. And to whomever we find out will be engaging with my son next year (we find out in the morning), bless you, I’m sorry, and good luck!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Absolutely. It’s a tough balance.

  18. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Such an important article, Paula. We really need to appreciate the hard work teachers do who help our kids. I know that my kids had a few who were really outstanding and made quite a difference. And thanks for linking to my blog post also!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Gail. Your insights are so valuable and worth sharing. I hope this post gets shared a lot so that teachers can feel supported and also get some ideas on how to connect with their gifted kids. And, can you tell, I just adore my niece!

  19. helenjnoble Avatar

    Reblogged this on helenjnoble.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Helen!

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