CONFLICTS WITH THE EDUCATION SYSTEM
Due to limited resources and competition between schools, there’s a necessity for schools to look good on the outside and advertise. Addressing giftedness is good for a school’s reputation and attracts performance-oriented families. However, the way a school presents itself can, but doesn’t always have to, correspond to reality. For gifted students and their parents, this means they may be given fake promises if it was only about advertising. For the teaching staff, this means the school may attract students for whom there are no real resources.
Also, many concepts for giftedness are much more programs for high performers than for gifted students. (cf. Giftedness vs. High Performance)
Additionally, the education of most teachers did not, or barely, cover giftedness. There’s a lack of knowledge and experience in working with gifted students. An attitude I encountered often in conversations with teachers, is that supporting gifted students is an unnecessary promotion of the elite at the expense of weaker students and therefore to be rejected.
If a student’s giftedness therefore requires particular attention, you should not rely on a school’s public image, but instead seek personal contact. Here, you need to describe the child’s particularities and ask for the school’s specific solutions.
Conflicts between schools and parents are no exception.
Parents need to consider the following:
- Teaching gifted children requires high professional, educational and emotional competencies.
- There is often little knowledge about giftedness, its challenges and adversities.
- The extra effort that the support of giftedness requires rests often in the hands of one single teacher. This means that everything she prepares in addition to her regular classes will be during her free time. She doesn’t receive extra time or payment for her efforts. Creating a concept and finding possibilities for supporting giftedness for the first time is a time-consuming and extensive task that may be too much for a single person. This issue is both systemic and political, because the parent-teacher conflict often transfers to a personal level.
Teachers should consider the following:
- Because of its risks, supporting giftedness should be a preventive effort: If gifted students do not receive sufficiently complex assignments and don’t learn to study or make an effort, the resulting lack of learning- and self-management strategies it is a very bad setup for later life. This often only starts showing at university. Psychological symptoms such as depressive exhaustion are also likely.
- Gifted students often attempt to adapt in school and not deviate or show weakness. Teachers often describe perceiving the child as well integrated in school, happy and balanced and find it hard to believe the parents’ descriptions. Many gifted students are able to adapt in school, but because this is so exhausting, they come home and break down, or show various psychological symptoms such as anger, crying, sleep disturbances, rejection, apathy etc., depending on the child. In younger years, there are often physical symptoms such as stomach- or headaches. Suicidal tendencies are also possible. Since the child leaves so many different impressions in different contexts, parents are often not taken seriously or labeled as performance-oriented, overly demanding, or crazy. The parents, on the other hand, are very worried or even afraid for the wellbeing of their child, but so far have received insufficient or wrong suggestions or promises (otherwise the child would be feeling better). Naturally, their trust in the school is often broken.
- Parents are unfamiliar with the education system and cannot estimate how much effort it is for an individual teacher to create concepts and materials, especially if this is the first time you are doing this and have little experience with the topic. The scarce resources available to you as a teacher are a systemic and political issue, yet resulting in conflict between you and the child or the parents. For the parents, you are the representative contact of the education system. You are the way to ensure the child’s wellbeing and it is understandable that parents reach out to the school when they notice their child is unwell.
Correspondingly, the following behavior will be helpful when you work together in the face of conflict:
Advice for parents:
- Emphasize your appreciation for the teachers’ efforts.
- Demand an individual support concept.
- Regular conversations and evaluation of the measures (Adjust the time periods to your need: If there are big difficulties and you are trying out new measures, this can be daily or weekly. If all goes well, it may be enough to meet once a year.)
- Prepare the conversations well (appearance, argumentation and emphasizing necessity).
- Keep minutes of the conversations and have both parties sign them.
- If the measures are unsuccessful: consult a psychologist, special education teacher, or seek external counsel.
- In case of continuous, serious flaws: engage school supervision / school authorities
- In case of conflict: Consult mediators.
- If you are recommended to change schools, because the current school does not have sufficient capacities: Check if this makes sense for the child and whether the new school would actually have better opportunities and capacities. If not, hold your school responsible, because otherwise, you risk having to change the school again.
Advice for teachers:
- Demonstrate understanding for emotional distress and show an interest in present symptoms. Ask about them. This is how you indicate that you take parents seriously and believe them. As soon as parents sense your interest and understanding, they won’t feel the need to describe and magnify the symptoms repeatedly.
- Talk openly and honestly about your capacities and limits. Include these in the process of finding a solution.
- Seek counsel and support from school psychologists, special education teachers, or external sources both for professional advise (e.g. when creating a support concept) as well as conflict mediation.
- Demand systemic solutions and resources from the executive school board or higher.
© Frauke Niehues