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Summit on highly qualified teachers for gifted students held in Albuquerque

Teachers who work with students who have been identified as gifted need specialized training if they are going to properly serve students who learn and think differently, says Teresa Rowlison, an associate professor in the New Mexico State University College of Education.

Rowlison is a member of the New Mexico Association for the Gifted (NMAG), which held a summit at the Albuquerque Hilton Hotel July 25 to discuss the need for highly qualified teachers to work with gifted students.

Rowlison said valuing the nature of students with high levels of intelligence and understanding the cognitive, social and emotional characteristics are important for a teacher working with gifted students.

She said positions in public schools dealing with these students are often seen as easy, but teachers frequently neglect the social and emotional needs of gifted students and only focus on their academic needs.

"We need to dispel the idea that gifted jobs are easy," she said. "Gifted students need to be academically challenged, but they also have social and emotional needs that must be dealt with correctly."

Rowlison said teachers of gifted students need to create an environment where the students can feel challenged, but also safe to explore, take risks and express their uniqueness.

As an example, she indicated that gifted students usually feel an intense need to correct the wrongs they see around them, which can cause depression when they cannot fix everything that is wrong with their environment. Teachers should be trained on how to work with these students to keep them from getting depressed and make sure they are successful, Rowlison said.

At the summit, about 25 NMAG members and invited guests, including state legislators, discussed requiring 12 hours of graduate course work for those who serve as case managers or facilitators for gifted student programs in public schools across the state. This additional course work is already a requirement in the Albuquerque Public School District, but it is the only district in the state that requires the extra hours for personnel who work with gifted students.

NMSU now offers the 12 credit hours or four classes completely online for those who would like the advanced training to work with "gifted" students, but cannot leave their communities.

"We realize that the course work must be accessible if we want to reach facilitators in all of New Mexico's public school districts," Rowlison said.

Rowlison said NMAG, whose members include educators and parents of gifted students across the state, would like for the state to require facilitators of gifted programs to demonstrate competencies through course work or a portfolio process before they are considered highly qualified to work with gifted students. Those competencies are part of the curriculum in the graduate course work available to teachers who would like to work with gifted students.

For more information about gifted education course work or the push for statewide requirements, contact Rowlison at rowlison@nmsu.edu.