As a child, I had my nose stuck in every book I was given. I enjoyed school probably too much and I was a sponge to anything and everything science related. My teachers quickly saw my academic talent and placed me in a group with kids like me but obviously talented in their own ways. From the third grade on, I was classified as “gifted” and got to be in a class titled “TAG” standing for talented and gifted. This replaced one of my reading classes, but I still had a reading requirement to ensure I was proficient in that area. In this class, we did projects, self-guided learning, mock trial, presentations, field trips, and almost anything our heart desired, to an extent of course. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Of course it was! TAG gave me a family of kids just like me, made me feel less of an outsider, allowed me to meet my most influential teachers and friends, and, most of all, gave me a creative outlet for my curiosity. Nonetheless, with every good thing comes that flip side. Here’s how being “gifted” in elementary, middle, and high school has affected me in college.
I feel this is the most important part to start with. The teachers of my TAG classes were the most influential and supportive teachers I have had. Being a teacher in general is such a difficult task as they are responsible for paving the way for our future CEO’s, engineers, doctors, etc. But being a teacher of students that excel and have a built-in mindset (fixed mindset, more about that later) with them, is another challenge tacked right on top. I can’t imagine having to find ways to have satisfied even my hunger for information nonetheless a classroom of kids just like me. These teachers went the extra mile to make me feel liked I belonged and pushed my limits that I wouldn’t have been able to do by myself. Through them, I was able to find my passions, use my abilities, and pursue the career I am now to this day. They taught me how to manage my gift, push on when things get hard, and to stay passionate. The projects and field trips have all been great moments and built character that I can apply to my academics currently. My TAG teachers will always have a special place in my heart, and I will never be able to thank them enough for helping me find myself out. Keep in mind that a lot of what is talked about was taught by these teachers, i.e., fixed mindset, CHARGE, etc.
A Fixed Mindset
School was never a chore for me in high school, A’s on test were expected, and I graduated with a 4.0 having studied a handful of times throughout high school. To some, it sounds great and people would love to have that. But the reality of it hit me like a bus when it came to college. My high school habits created a “fixed mindset” for me. A fixed mindset is when people believe their traits are set in stone and that solely talent gets them where they need to go in life. My fixed mindset was my intelligence. I worked hard in high school but not as much as I should have to eliminate that mindset. I knew I was smart; I was labeled as “gifted” and I didn’t need to work hard to get good grades. I went to college with my nose up and study habits nonexistent. How could I not? School was fun and easy, and I now get to study exactly what I want. As classes started, I was confident when it came to the first round of exams. I applied the same “study” techniques as I did in high school and opened Canvas after my first exam; “Exam One Graded – 48%”. I was beyond shocked, I was ruined. I had never received lower than an A on any test and I was now staring at my computer with tears in my eyes as I had failed my first exam ever. I wanted to quit. I wanted to give up and change majors. “It’s too hard for you. You’ll never get good grades. You should probably just drop out now,” was what the voice in my head was saying. It was what the fixed mindset I had created for myself was saying. For the longest time, I believed it. I was an imposter surrounded by “gifted” kids who were “better” than me everywhere I looked. For the longest time, I kept giving up on myself because it was HARD. Who would have thought college would be hard? Not me apparently. Well, I obviously did not drop out or change my major, so what did I do?
My middle school TAG teacher has a tradition as her students graduate from middle school to high school. The tradition entails her giving us a word that reminds her and the student of themselves. The word describes the student and stands for what they truly embody as a person. My word was charge. To this day, I still have the small write out that’s laminated, and I think about that word when things get tough. It stuck with me all through high school and even now while I’m in college. Fast forward to me staring teary-eyed at my first failing test score as I’m trying to pick myself up and hear the word charge. I’m reminded of everything I’m capable of, everything I will accomplish in life, everything I can’t give up on. My mindset had changed from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Someone has a growth mindset when they are not afraid of failing and understand that their traits are able to built upon. As much as I wish it was a complete 180 switch in mindsets, it wasn’t. I still struggle with wanting to give up when things get tough. I still struggle with understanding that my failures do not define me. I will continue to charge forward with every little thing life wants to throw at me. It’s not easy as I’ve had to reconstruct my entire mindset of how I think about school, life, and even how I view myself as a person. Changing myself was hard and it still is but charging forward is what keeps me going. I sat myself down and forced myself to write out things I struggled with. Some of those things being very specific such as a certain chapter in my current chemistry class while others were very general such as how to study for an exam. I took time out of my days to figure out solutions or tips to help me fix my struggle areas until eventually I felt comfortable enough with looking them in the face and telling them I wasn’t bothered by the fact I had academic weaknesses. I saw improvement in my grades. I saw myself becoming confident again. I saw improvement in how I thought about everything. A shift in mindset became the ultimate game changer for me. Although I find myself falling back into the habits of a fixed mindset from time to time, I know how to handle it this time around and I know how to kick that aside now.
There isn’t one thing that made me the way I was nor is there one solution to help students that are just like me. Everyone is different as well as how students experience having gifts like mine. My teachers even gave me the tools and information on exactly what happened to me and I still lost sight. The only thing I can do now is learn from my mistakes and have that growth mindset about my situation. Regardless of someone being labeled as “gifted” or not, a growth vs a fixed mindset should be talked about more. I truly believe in the power of this idea and how it can strengthen student’s ideology of almost any task at any level of academics, athletics, music, preforming arts you name it. I share my story in hopes of this idea being spread more widely and if people are feeling the same way whether college or middle school that they aren’t alone and there is way to manage those feelings. Grades, GPA, intelligence, IQ will NEVER define who a person is nor should anyone be judged solely based off of those things. A person is so much more than what they know in an academic setting. As difficult as things may seem right now, remember to charge forward and never give up on yourself. There is more to life than grades. That should always stick with you. If I could tell my younger self one thing it’d be this, “Charge forward; it will work out in your favor; you are more than your academic ability.”