It started from the first time teachers found out I could read above grade level. The kindergarten teacher, Ms. Greene, calls on some of her colleague to watch me read a book, where they marveled that I already knew how to enunciate words a few grades above grade level. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Klein, already heard about the wunderkind going to her class after an accidental switch to a bilingual class. She pulls me and another young girl to the side and said, “Listen, I’d love to put you on a different track than everyone else in this class,” a room full of kids who I assumed had the same intellectual capacity that I had. “All you have to do is a few more pages of this book than everyone else and …”
My mind drifted. I already didn’t want to do it. I completed the first and second nights of the assignment, but soon drifted towards doing exactly as much as everyone else. She was not impressed. “I’m sorry, Jose, but if you really wanted to excel, you could have done this. Now, you can join everyone else.”
Regret set in. For about a 30 minutes. After seeing the laughter and calm from the rest of the class, I told myself, “Getting off that track was awesome!”
People have heard “no good deed goes unpunished.” In many schools, no good success goes unpunished as well. Students with lower academic achievement have gotten most of our attentions, and mostly with good intentions. But, unbeknownst to the unobservant, the smart, successful kid needs support and attention, too.
Never mind for a second that, in any classroom, the teacher tends to give more attention to the misbehaved children, thus teaching the on-task students that, in order to get attention, they need to misbehave. The high achievers I know of refer to an intense amount of pressure to keep their grades as high as they are. Even when the teacher(s) of the child don’t see it, the child often feels like, because they’re so smart and so talented, that they don’t want to disappoint anyone by not knowing something or often get picked on when they finally do make a mistake.
For example, in the eighth grade, the GPA peak of my academic career, if I didn’t get a close-to-perfect score on a quiz, my fellow students would make fun of me for not doing well on that test, saying things like, “Aren’t you in an honors class?” or “Aren’t you trying out for [insert prestigious school here]?” I wanted to jam the quiz so far down the person’s mouth, but a) it was unbecoming of a young Catholic goody-two-shoes and b) telling them that my average is still 10-15 points higher than theirs would only exacerbate the situation.
High achievers, especially in a K-12 setting, sometimes care more about fitting in than they do standing out.
They’ve barely figured themselves out, and doing well in school puts them in a bind with their peers, who are often uncomfortable with how they’re doing in class or simply need to nitpick. Some of the most intelligent kids I know prefer that no one else knows they’re intelligent, or hide behind a mask that allows them to be part of the “cool kids.” For those that don’t have a mask, however, these years are tough.
This is just food for thought. Do you address this in class? If so, how? How does your classroom allow for everyone to take part without feeling like they only matter if they’re on either end of the academic achievement spectrum?
Mr. Vilson, who turned out alright after all …