Teacher’s Corner: Incorporate Social & Emotional Issues Into and Outside of the Classroom

Recently I was treated to an outstanding theatrical performance of A Christmas Carol, during which I was inspired to write about the three spirits of gifted education, past, present, and future, and the messages they would relay to the Scroogish general education community that has long “replaced” talent development with the “idol” of testing. However, as the curtain closed and I fumbled for my pen to jot down some notes, I was approached by one of the actresses from the performance, a former student, who had noticed me in the audience. My focus for this column soon changed.  

It had been some 18 years since I directed her in a performance of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. She was excited to see me and eager to share her theatrical history, full of accomplishments. Experiences like these happen all the time.

One instance found me stopping a former student in the hallway the other day to ask how he was doing. He proceeded to tell me at length about his awesome math class, the success of the school’s Robotics Club, and the anticipation of the newest installment of the Star Trek franchise. I clearly remembered the shy 7th grader who spent two months researching the best digital camera to buy, and who also needed some help in organizing his homework assignments. He is now a senior in high school, doing quite well.

Last week I received two e-mails from former students, one who is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Engineering and the other is a high school math teacher. I recalled the excited 8th grader who was astounded by the principles of circuitry, and the reserved boy who didn’t say much unless the conversations were about baseball. I wished them both well. 

As time moves on, conversations like these are a regular occurrence. Present and former students love talking about their lives, interests, fears, goals, and dreams. Often, the monotonous grind of school vanishes when students are encouraged to discover who they are as individuals. Sharing personal anecdotes or relating a lesson to real-world experiences helps to bridge the gap between content and social and emotional development.

Teachers, especially during the middle school years, often need to begin the conversation. Simply asking “How’s it going?” can open up the line of communication between the teacher and student.  Attending to the affective needs of gifted and talented students is just as important as imparting content and skill knowledge. There are a variety of ways to incorporate social and emotional issues into and outside of the classroom. Simple conversations are one way; others can take place as an entire curriculum. 

Scrooge may reappear at the “Teacher’s Corner” door next month. In the meantime, below are some of NAGC’s most important resources for understanding and enriching the affective needs of gifted and talented students. I encourage you to review them, and share them with colleagues.