by Prof. Emma, Athena’s educator
I used to be a gifted child…
…and now I’m a gifted adult who teaches gifted children online!
Being in this position means a lot to me–particularly because it allows me to relate to my students on a different level.
Sometimes, my students will bring up concerns they have about who they are, about the world around them, about decisions they are making…about the entire universe…
Questions like these come up often when we discuss conservation in my marine biology and
ecology classes and especially in my Philosophy of Science courses. One of my groups of students was recently discussing how we have no way of knowing whether something we use all the time is actually deeply detrimental to us. They asked: what if we are completely missing the modern equivalent of using lead in everything?! That is a terrifying thought! This conversation resulted in a lot of sad-face emojis posted in the chat!
Hearing my students bring up these deep-seated, and ruminated-upon, fears brought me back to my own thought spirals. I know what it’s like to be thinking about the state of humanity while lying in bed at two in the morning—or while answering emails at two in the afternoon. I have been considering questions like these since I was capable of complex thought, and I know my students have had similar experiences.
At this point in my life, and with substantial help from my mother, I’ve learned how to work through those thoughts, framing them in a way that centers hope.
Because I’ve had these experiences, I was able to tell my students that yes, that is really scary to think about! And then I let them know that it helps me to remember that the main goal is to do the best you can with the information you have right now. We can’t know how every decision we make will impact our futures, but we can make the best decision possible with what we do know. And then, if we learn new information later, we can incorporate that into our future decision-making! If we know we are making decisions based on the information available to us, we know we’re doing the best we can.
After hearing that, I began to see those sad-face emojis in the chat turn into happy-face emojis. Watching my students connect with what I was saying was a beautiful moment. That is what is so special about having gifted (or neurodivergent or simply empathetic!) people teaching gifted kids. I get it, because I’ve been there.
I was also the kid who would never bring up concerns like this in a classroom setting. I would wait to break down into tears about newfound concerns about climate change, food poisoning, and mercury exposure until I got home or logged out of the webinar room. When I was younger, I knew that I would not have been understood in the classroom—and my concerns would have been dismissed as silly rather than something I was deeply feeling. My classmates wouldn’t have understood, and the vast majority of my teachers wouldn’t have understood either.
Providing a space for students to feel comfortable discussing what they’re worried about—with me and with their peers—is so important to me, and to Athena’s as a whole. It’s such a special component of what we do, and I’m so glad I have the opportunity to help students feel understood.