At My Ivy Education, working with gifted students is par for the course for us. Our commitment to personalization draws to our doors students from all walks of life, many of whom are in need of the kind of challenging curriculum that only our tailored approach can offer them. We work with each and every student to help them excel at their own pace, and for students who tend to be underserved by traditional schooling, that kind of an approach can be revolutionary. When it comes to students who are also marginalized in other ways, it becomes doubly important for educators to make sure that we extend a helping hand to each child, by recognizing the specific needs of the subgroups we serve. Specifically, today's post reflects on supporting LGBTQ+ youth in the gifted community.
In an education system in which gifted and high-achieving students are often left to their own devices, since they can 'take care of themselves,' LGBTQ+ students are particularly vulnerable. Through the intensity and introspection that often goes hand-in-hand with giftedness, many gifted students who are also LGBTQ+ come to realizations about their identities at young ages. Unfortunately, these realizations can exacerbate the feelings of isolation and difference from their same-age peers that gifted students often experience across the board, making teacher empathy, understanding, and intervention a necessity (Cross, 2013; NAGC, 2015; Sedillo, 2013; Treat, 2008, 2016; Whittenburg & Treat, 2009).
But what exactly does that mean? Well, as people with years of experience in the subject, here's what we've learned when it comes to nurturing both gifted and LGBTQ+ kids in the classroom: our top tips on understanding.
1. We here at My Ivy Education have been cheering all the way to see the strides made in women's and ethnic minorities' newfound acceptance in STEM fields! There's still a long way to go, but the popularity of initiatives such as Girls Who Code and MIT's Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science warms our hearts. However, similar organizations geared towards encouraging LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM fields remain few and far between. According to the American Physical Society's Report on the LGBT Climate in Physics, more than one-third of LGBTQ+ students "considered leaving their workplace or school" in the past year, and considering the hostility many non-heterosexual persons report in STEM careers, it's no small wonder that 43% of gay and lesbian workers in these fields are closeted (The New York Times, 2015). Making sure to nurture a bisexual or transgender student's interest in STEM, rather than dissuading them, can go a long way.
2. Zero-tolerance policies are common when it comes to bullying, but more covert comments can slip under a teacher's radar. According to a 2016 study by GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), 98.1% of LGBTQ+ students reported hearing the word "gay" used negatively in school by their classmates, while 95.8% were exposed to homophobic slurs; 93.4% felt hurt, upset, and crushed as a result. As the study shows, this kind of language is distressing to LGBTQ+ students as a whole, and for gifted students, who may exhibit emotional sensitivities and overexcitabilities, words can hurt. Holding students accountable for hate speech creates a more inclusive and accepting environment for all LGBTQ+ youth.
3. On the opposite end of the spectrum, overcompensating by continually holding up an 'out and proud' gifted student as a role model of diversity for their peers without asking permission can cause that student to feel even more alienated.
While both gifted and LGBTQ+ students unfortunately continue to face discrimination in traditional school systems daily - the intersection of their particular Venn diagram most of all - leading with compassion on the teacher's side can make a big difference in the life of a student struggling to understand themselves and their identity. We will continue to support these students and all others, and hope to band together with other educators to do the same.
This article is part of the Hoagies' Gifted Education Page Blog Hop, on the topic Special Populations in Gifted.