You have a different world in many ways now, in this year, 2070. But, when I was a teacher and an administrator in the schools during the early 2000's, education for gifted children, who were like many of the kids you will be teaching when you exit this teaching program, was much different.
Back then, the world had a lot of troubles and we were certainly not as advanced, technology-wise or environmentally as our country is now. So maybe it will not surprise you to hear that we did not adequately meet the needs of a major portion of our country's students back then either. As educators and parents in those days, we were constantly disappointed with the slow pace of advancement in this area, (especially since we had possessed enough data and information to prove the students needed more support and opportunities, for many decades prior.)
After the Russians beat us in the initial phases of the Space Race, our country did a lot of talking about raising the standards of achievement and racing to the top of the international education game. However, the government quickly became focused on students performing on standardized testing in order to easily separate children into categories according to the scores on their exams. This push for standardization and achievement on multiple-choice testing caused all sorts of problems for the public school system, and everyone could easily see that it was really mostly benefiting those schools and those students whom already had advantages, and it was making a lot of money for corporations that sold testing materials.
We lost a lot of good educators during those years, who were underpaid and overburdened. And we lost a lot of excitement and innovation in those that stayed.
But, most importantly, we quickly lost any potential opportunity for raising achievement and creative accomplishments from our most talented and able minds. Children who had gifted traits were not always recognized or served with whole-child support services back then, because in order to be formally labeled gifted, the system required achievement on standardized tests, which many gifted children were reluctant to jump through the hoops to do.
We had biases that separated students by race, and created an atmosphere of stereotypes and incorrect assumptions about what gifted children should look like, or act like. So, many of our racially diverse and English language learner students were left out of screeners and evaluations for eligibility. And those who were actually evaluated were at a distinct disadvantage due to cultural and vocabulary inequities that played out in the often verbal skills-based testing. Many school districts and schools did not allow consideration for the types of proof that many of the students could have otherwise provided, including portfolios and the use of multiple criteria.
We also had many twice exceptional students, with both gifted traits and learning disabilities, stuck sitting in special education classes or otherwise not identified for gifted services. And so, some of our most creative and hard-working gifted children were taught to think that they had deficits, rather than having their self-esteem built up around their strengths. We killed a lot of spirits during those years.
Even with all the talk from the government about identifying our most capable students, and supporting their achievement, they did not put their money where their mouth was. Students who were the most bright and innovative, often sat in overcrowded classrooms with teachers who lacked gifted education training. Many schools did not have basic materials, and teachers were expected to purchase all the things that they needed in the classroom other than textbooks and very few classroom supplies. There was a small federal tax write-off of $250 that teachers could claim towards a discount on their taxes in order to acknowledge their personal investment in their classrooms, but that never truly covered what they spent.
With teaching one of the lower paid career options for graduates of four year degree programs, sometimes districts had to make exceptions for the minimum requirements for being a certified teacher. So, students often had teachers in front of them who had lower skills and abilities then they, themselves possessed.
Gifted children often entered school with the ability to remember and perform high above the average kindergarten entrance expectations. Yet, they were expected to sit in groups with similar-aged peers, rather than with their academic equals. Developmentally-appropriate pedagogy was put aside, and testing and test preparation were the focus, even at the ages when little bodies needed to move and play in order to best learn about their environment and academic concepts. Our gifted youngsters suffered greatly in those school formats, as they needed the chance to explore and experiment with their deeper thoughts and ideas. And even though some needed to work more on physical dexterity, like holding small objects, buttoning, holding pencils and big paint brushes, and practicing moving their different muscles, they rarely got recess or imaginative play time. And the gifted kids often needed social-emotional skills building practice, which comes most naturally from interactions with other children and adults, rather than sitting quietly in a desk following directions like what they had to do all day.
Unfortunately, gifted children were not formally evaluated or identified for giftedness until they were often six or seven years of age. This set them up by allowing them to acquire bad habits and behavioral issues during many of the most important developmental years. They sometimes were punished for normal gifted characteristics and needs when they became antsy from boredom or frustrated with the daily routines, and they were not challenged appropriately so many found school less and less interesting and created more and more distractions while the other kids learned skills that the gifted kids had already mastered.
It was a different age back then, my friends. And I am excited to stand here, discussing this as a history lesson so that you will take heed and not allow our education system to slide backwards again. The country has made huge gains in the way that we treat our gifted students and the way we value education.
I am also excited to be standing here virtually, as you receive this message on your newer technology, that I probably could not explain if I tried. We are moving forward as a society and making leaps and bounds in new technologies because of our students' comfort with innovation and risk-taking from our new school structure. The gains we have made as a society in education have led to the creation of amazing leaders who spearheaded astounding discoveries and interventions that have made our lives amazingly better. People do not die from the same diseases they used to die from, as our hospitals and our medical experts have made leaps and bounds in pursuing cures and preventative medicines that have allowed people to live much healthier lives and live longer. Our graduates from our educational system have become governmental leaders in the world with compassion and integrity, and war is not the normal way of living in most countries due to the involvement of our gifted learners in worldwide discussions and negotiations.
Back in the early 2000's, We had discussions on a regular basis about how humans were killing the planet. And yet, in the year 2070, we do not have to have those conversations as often anymore. Our scientists and our world organizations have found ways to work together with the business world, so that products are safely sourced and pollution is a thing of the past. Much of these improvements stem from the educational overhaul that occurred mid-century, and has led to interest-based, multi age, integrated and inclusive policies and procedures in every classroom across the nation. These changes led to collaboration, cooperation, respect, and acknowledgment of the differences in every child, and encouraging and inspiring every child to find excitement and learning that helped them all reach for their goals. This was not always the way education, teachers, or students were treated in the past.
As graduates of your teaching program in 2070, you now see it as the norm for children to have a range of options for educational services, and to have teachers who focus on the individual needs of every student they serve. Education is no longer based on a lecture format, but is hands-on and intended to be a constant discussion and inquiry into the world and concepts around them. Our gifted children are inspired and excited about learning in ways that support their innate talents and abilities, while also helping them achieve their goals. Labeling of students is no longer necessary, but is honestly used to identify possible needs that are not seen as negative traits anymore, but are seen as differences that add to the diversity of the classrooms where they meet to engage in collaborative activities. Learning happens around the clock now, rather than during school hours. And teachers are honored and respected, and the best and the brightest college students and experts in academic fields are honored to enter the teaching field.
I am happy to be nearing the last phase of my life, knowing that gifted children are no longer having to fight for their basic educational rights, and parents of gifted children do not have the struggles I had, and others I worked with had, while trying to obtain the services and support our children needed.
And I have more faith in the human race because I have seen changes made that will ensure a stronger and safer planet and a world focused on humans working together to solve problems, that would not have been possible prior to the changes in education that now focus on interpersonal traits and educational opportunities for the best uses of those traits that were often seen as weaknesses in the past.
We still have room to grow, but we have come along way. That is why new educators of the future, such as yourselves, need to know how it used to be, so that it never slides back and becomes that way again. Our gifted students and their families of the future are counting on you. And I am confident in your training and your experience practicing that training in the classrooms, so that I know you will meet and exceed my expectations. Good luck, and thank you for putting every child first, as the country should have done so many years ago.