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They Made a Difference

May 8, 2012

Excellence in education is when we do everything that we can to make sure they become everything that they can. − Carol Ann Tomlinson

Many of us have a teacher that impacted our lives or lives of our children.  For gifted learners, it is no different.  These are teachers who looked beyond the bored or disturbed student to see a child eager to learn more, unfettered chains to let them soar, and truly changed some lives!  This week, we especially honor and thank these teachers and all the teachers who have helped gifted learners succeed!

Do you have special teachers who made a difference in the life of a gifted child?  Please add a comment honoring them!

Kiyo Morse, Steppingstone School, Oakland County, MI
Kiyo took in one troubled five year old who failed out of public kindergarten in high style and quickly assessed his issues and abilities in a way that no one had previously done.  Within weeks at her school, he informed us, ‘my muscles aren’t as big as they used to be because i am not mad any more.’ That was soon followed by the statement that ‘people are my school are not horrible’ which eventually led to statements about school being ‘ok.’  This may sound minor but this five year old had given up on school, adults and himself.  It was only with her keen observation, her gentle guidance and firm hand that he became a smiling, productive little boy again.  We say that he was ‘saved’ on February 6th — the day that he joined the Steppingstone community.  We are only now feeling that he has a positive future filled with wonderful discoveries instead of the path filled with self loathing and hatred for the rest of mankind which he had previously seen as his destiny. – Alison Kenyon

Nancy O’Dell, Sam Houston Elementary School, Dallas Independent School District, Texas
My life’s path changed forever in 1980 as a second grader at Sam Houston Elementary School in Dallas, Texas. Coming from a low socio-economic class as a black, female student I was used to being overlooked and ignored by teachers or seen as an anomaly by my fellow black peers, whether in all-black schools or in racially diverse schools. Ironically, it was a Caucasian teacher from a very wealthy background who identified me (and a couple of my close Hispanic friends)for the elementary school’s gifted program. This proved to be my ticket to a better life than I would have had otherwise and a clear future full of hope and promise. I went on to later attend a gifted academy in middle school, graduated from a gifted magnet high school in the top 5% in a class of over 800 seniors, not to mention became the first person in my family to attend college–I went on to attend and graduate from one of the best universities in my state and arguably one of the top universities in the country (The University of Texas at Austin). In case you are wondering, all of these were public schools. This broke the cycle of poverty in my family history, and as a result of being identified as gifted early in my school career, now my children have a viable, promising future as well. Now, the challenge is finding free, public gifted education for my own children. Nancy O’Dell in Texas made all of this a possibility for me, my most sincere hope is that Michigan will make this a possibility for my children as well. Thanks Ms. O’Dell! – La Toya Tung

Kristina Moutrie, Meadow Brook Elementary, Rochester Community Schools, MI
Mrs. Moutrie is a retired teacher from the Troy, MI school district who has blessed the community by volunteering in elementary schools.  She also has had a longtime interest in gifted students, writing her master’s thesis on creating a program for gifted students in Troy.  Even before I started Rochester SAGE, she was someone I could discuss education and gifted learners with and helped my understanding of the school system.

When my eldest daughter was in first grade, she volunteered in the first grade classrooms at her elementary school, working with the students who are advanced in reading.  This gave these students a few hours each week at their academic level and helped the teachers in educating every student.  I always valued our chats about gifted education and the way she helped my daughters learn. – Joshua Raymond

Mrs. Keller, Plumbrook Elementary, Sterling Heights, MI
As a gifted child, I was in a pull-out program at my Elementary school which started in Kindergarten. The program itself was great and allowed me to dive deeper into subjects that were interesting to me. However, the sessions removed me from regular Math Class.

When I reached 2nd grade, I began to struggle with Math. While I could easily produce the correct answer, I had no idea how to show my work and rejected it as a necessary step.

The teachers in the gifted program would make comments like, “You’re smart, why can’t you figure it out.” I was discouraged to say the least. My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Keller was the only one who took the time to sit down with me during lunch and after school to show me how to “show my work”. She was so patient and never told me that I just had to do what was being asked of me. Instead she told me why it was important to show my work. She explained the complexities of higher level math and showed that by showing my work, it would help keep things organized on paper when calculating multiple step problems. She even used real world examples to help me apply the importance to life. She made a major difference in my life and I will forever be grateful for her kindness. – Amy Simko

Mrs. Jan Alderton, QUEST, Bridgeport, MI
I joined Bridgeport Community Schools’ gifted and talented program, QUEST, when I was in 3rd grade and had the good fortune of having Mrs. Alderton for my teacher in a mixed 3rd and 4th grade class. She was young, with such a spark about her and infectious laughter. The program was designed to allow the students to truly work at their own pace, and in math it was common practice to give a pre-test at the beginning of each chapter to determine if the student already knew the material. At one point I passed several in a row and ended up well beyond the rest of my 3rd grade classmates. I worked on my own until I reached long division, and I just didn’t get it. I remember the special one-on-one lesson she gave me cleared it all up for me and on I went. By the end of the year I had worked my way through half of the 4th grade math book, and because of the split class, was doing much of the same work. On the last day she went around to all of the students and wrote “promoted” on their report cards. On mine she wrote “Double Promoted.” Fifth grade was a struggle at times, but the confidence and love of learning that she helped instill in me helped me to persevere. I still look back very fondly on her and the year that profoundly impacted my life. -Janet Raymond

Mrs. Bortnick and Mrs. Kroboth, Lionville Middle School, Downingtown Area School District, PA
Mrs. Bortnick and Mrs. Kroboth were life-savers for my twice-exceptional daughter during her years at the middle school, a time when her self-esteem was beaten elsewhere in school.  But in the gifted room, her strengths were honored and her weaknesses supported by these two amazing teachers.

Study of the brain, logic problems, Shakespeare competitions, debate competitions, and Renaissance Faire trips are only a few fondly remembered activities in gifted class. Most important was the caring and support given to my daughter and all the students in their classes, year in and year out.

Even now, many years later, a visit to the middle school to spend time with Mrs. Bortnick and Mrs. Kroboth brings days of smiles to my daughter’s face.  Thank you Mrs. Bortnick and Mrs. Kroboth! – Carolyn Kottmeyer

Annie John, Twin Lakes Elementary School, Federal Way, WA
In a time when paperwork and standardized testing hinders even the most dedicated teachers in the classroom, Annie John commits herself far beyond expectations in serving her 2/3 GATE class at Twin Lakes. She truly knows every single student in her class: their strengths, their challenges, their joys, their frustrations. Her class is a true community thanks to the environment she has carefully created — not only through lesson plans and activities, but through an alternative setting. Sofas, lamps, plants, natural light may be common in gifted classrooms, but Annie takes the idea of family a step further. All the kids brought in 2-3 framed pictures of themselves with their siblings and/or parents. These pictures are scattered throughout the classroom — on the walls, on tables, on the few desks, etc. When a person walks in and sits down, you feel as though it’s like another home. As part of the GATE curriculum, the children move faster and deeper than the other classes at Twin Lakes. Annie never pushes but encourages. She shows the students the bar and makes them believe they can reach it. She understands about Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities and how they can manifest in a diverse, gifted class. She understands asynchronous development and does all she can to bring the students’ capabilities into better congruence. And she does all this as a single mom on a measly public school salary.

Only one issue disappoints me: that my daughter will move on from Annie’s class next year into a higher grade. But at least I know that she’s prepared for that new challenge, in large part due to the remarkable talents and commitment of Annie John. – Andrea McDowell

Elizabeth Rushing, Thoreau Elementary, Lake Washington School District, WA
Ms. Rushing was my son’s 2nd grade GT (“Quest”) teacher. She recognized that he had learning needs that went beyond her classroom, and allowed him a lot of latitude on assignments. One in particular gave him a spark. It started out as a simple math worksheet, and DS was – as was his typical response – resisting doing something so simple. He asked if he could do it, “my way.” Ms. Rushing said yes. DS translated each problem into atomic abbreviations from the periodic table, solved the problems, then turned the page upside-down to write out the answers in real numbers so Ms. Rushing could correct his math.

For her whole class, Ms. Rushing was (still is, I’m sure!) a priceless treasure. At the beginning of each unit, she gave the end-of-unit test to see how the class was doing on that particular subject. If she found they already knew it – they skipped that unit. She wasn’t bound by a formal structure of lesson plans – she figured out what they needed to learn and taught them. She used creative ways to teach all sorts of topics.

Ms. Rushing really made a difference for MY child, and she continues to do so for her kids. – Mona Chicks

Sue Bedenbaugh Gibbons, Cherokee County Project GOAL (Elementary gifted program), Cherokee County School District, South Carolina
A prevalent maxim asserts the belief that teachers are born, not made; people generally express this theory should they consider teaching to be a higher calling, a service to humanity. After living a life of total exposure to teachers and the teaching profession, I agree with the philosophy that a teacher should strive to inspire, provoke, stimulate each child placed within her care; the ultimate goal being the development of the complete individual, unbound by limitations of mediocrity and sustained with self-direction, confidence and personal honor.

Throughout my life, I have taught with, and been taught by, many outstanding teachers; dedicated educators who bare their souls to their students each day. My dear friend, Sue Bedenbaugh Gibbons, personified the sum and substance of excellent teaching. I met her when she taught my younger son in the Cherokee County Elementary Gifted and Talented Program for four years. She taught him how to think, not what to think; she inspired the creativity from within and provided the accouterments for analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Throughout their relationship as teacher and student, “Mrs. G” taught him joyfully and well, displaying an enthusiasm and zest for teaching and learning that is rare, even among excellent educators.

I had the distinct privilege of teaching with my friend for over ten years. I witnessed her caring relationship with her students, fueled by her infinite patience, tolerance and respect. Sue had an innate ability to connect with her students and, in turn, used that bond to inspire them to learn. She believed that to arouse their curiosity was half the battle won. To a third grade boy with problems in reading, to a young girl who was mathematically insecure, Sue introduced confidence in oneself through mastery of what was once an impossible chore. Furthermore, she had high expectations for her students; she felt that to expect less than the best was to doom them to mediocrity. Through the use of innovative, inspiring lesson plans, she soared beyond the restraints of standardized testing to challenge her students to speak grammatically, think logically and critically and respect the rights of others to express different views.

Sue Bedenbaugh Gibbons was a generous, magnanimous and trustworthy friend, colleague and teacher. Her students and colleagues, past and present, witnessed her devotion to her friends, family and students; we applauded her devotion to higher level thinking and witnessed the superior teaching that heralded the beginning of a child’s intellectual journey. We will miss her tremendously, but we are all much the better for having known her. – Diane Broome Masters

Charyl Stockwell Academy, Charter School in Howell, Michigan
When my daughter was old enough for Kindergarten last fall, I knew that we would have to think carefully about her education. It didn’t seem like 1/2 day Kindergarten (all that was available at our local school) in public school was going to be the right fit for a kid who was reading at a 4th grade level and doing fractions in her head. Charyl Stockwell Academy, a charter school, knew exactly what to do with her. She was placed in a 1st/2nd grade mixed class that is team taught and has a gifted cluster in the room. The school has a gifted coordinator on staff and test any child for giftedness for free if the parents request the testing.

Part of the school’s philosophy is to differentiate for each child. My little one was placed in reading, writing and math groups with other children that are academically at her level. The teachers challenge her without overwhelming her, and she has also learned that it is ok to make mistakes and practice what she has learned. Before she started, she had a problem with perfectionism.

The teachers understand my child. The administration knows that gifted kids have different intensities and emotional reactions to things. The school nurtures her enthusiasm for learning.

We are very happy with CSA, and our daughter loves school and loves going there every day. She told us that she was going to cry when it was time for summer break. We couldn’t ask for more. – Gretchen Hertz

Matt Kerstein, Baldwin Elementary, Rochester Community Schools, Michigan
My daughter Amelia has struggled at this school socially and academically since first grade. I was ready to give up until I found out she was going to had Mr. Kerstein in 4th grade. He challenged her, made her feel special, was not intimidated by her needs, and never isolated her. He helped her with her self confidence and we are eternally grateful. – Linda Cumming

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE.  Together we can make a difference for gifted learners!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. alison k permalink
    May 8, 2012 10:17 AM

    what a lovely, lovely tribute. thank you, Joshua, for putting it together. often times, we forget to thank those people who made such a difference. very nice!

  2. June 18, 2012 9:32 AM

    I like this quote. I’m working with sutnedts right now who struggle with school, not with intelligence. We’ve been looking at the different kind of smarts people have. It’s amazing how many of those smarts are cultivated OUTSIDE an educational institution. It’s so powerful when you realize you can learn everywhere you are.

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