Teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities across the United States abound, but are pre-service teachers being provided with the knowledge and skills needed to recognize and nurture gifts and talents in the children they will serve? Most teachers entering the general education arena are only exposed to children with exceptionalities (with the emphasis on the learning disabled rather than the gifted) through an exceptional children’s course. If they are fortunate, the textbook used for this course will have at least one chapter pertaining to the characteristics and educational needs of the gifted child. As a result, in most programs a mere class period (no more than two hours) is devoted to gifted education during a pre-service teacher’s training.
Currently about two percent of colleges and universities nationwide provide advanced training in gifted education. However, undergraduate teacher preparation programs that thoroughly address the needs of gifted students are needed in much greater percentages. Even though gifted students may attend a specialized program at some point in their school day staffed by a teacher who has received specialized training in gifted education, the majority of gifted students’ school days will be spent with teachers who have limited knowledge on how to best meet their educational needs. In response to this dilemma, it has often been said that gifted students are gifted not just for one hour a day—the time typically spent receiving specialized services. Gifted children are gifted 24/7 and should receive appropriate accommodations throughout their school day.
If teachers are to appropriately differentiate learning experiences for everychild in their classroom, they will need to understand the special learning needs of all their students—from those achieving well below grade level to those achieving well beyond.
Many have pondered: Are we asking too much of our teachers when the span in student ability at any given grade level is so vast? When does heterogeneous grouping of students become too much for one teacher to handle effectively? Regardless of the answers to these questions, one thing is clear—every child, regardless of ability, deserves a highly qualified teacher that is prepared to help each student reach his or her full potential. In order to ensure that our classrooms are staffed by highly qualified teachers, it may be necessary to reform existing teacher preparation programs to provide teachers with the comprehensive knowledge and skills needed to serve all children effectively—including the gifted and talented.
—Kristen R. Stephens, PhD