Posted in Gifted Education

My Extreme Learners

foreshallI remember Santiago, the old fisherman who brought his mangled hand and the half-eaten marlin back ashore. For days and nights, he fought back against that fish even if that meant the fish was to be eaten up by sharks. From the outsiders, he was an up-to-go-good man with nothing to share but what he found was the battle within himself — the ultimate reward a man could have. He fought for it and he brought that game back home. You think to yourself that old man was crazy to bring a fishbone back home.

Yes, he is an extreme learner. A man who is not afraid to sail out to see what’s awaiting him, a man who believes that exploration is an outward sign of inner strength and battles. A man who marches to his own drumbeat, a man who is not afraid to get to a different place than what he had planned.

So are some middle schoolers. They might or might not do well academically or perhaps share little about their school life. Their lens constantly shifts and turns like ocean waves. Some have masked their motivation underneath refusing to share with you for the fear of judgment or being questioned by the adults around them. Their passion isn’t just about taking classes that interest them but actually starting with a driving question using the world as their text, foreseeing possible problems and hurdles and articulating its premises, and designing, presenting, and sharing their multiple solutions with the world.

Beyond the matrices of cognitive and achievement abilities, the teens are wired to innovate, gamify, and create their worlds and share out our ideas to make differences.

Yes, today’s teens have developed social, emotional, and communal identities beyond cognitive and achievement matrices. The disconnect and the sense of inadequacy the parents feel towards this generation have to do with their inability in directing their thinking processes towards something that are productive and purpose driven. These children grew up embracing digitalized realities and in return, they are able to access innovation, creativity, and multiplicity of values.

Come on guys, it’s time to get on the boat and sail on to the deep!



Benna Haas works as a Gifted Education Specialist at Philips Middle School in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools since 2016. She has been an educator since 2008 and taught a wide range of English classes for gifted and talented learners in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Cabarrus County Schools, Durham Public Schools, and Union County Schools. Some of the classes she enjoyed teaching include Advanced Placement Composition and Language, Honors English II, III, and IV, ESL, and self-contained Middle Grades AIG English and Language Arts. As a Third Culture Kid(TCK) who grew up in South Korea, Israel, Brazil, and Ivory Coast including seven random cities in the United States, she has lived her life as a nomad where her idea of home is never concrete. When forced to define it, she will say home is an infinite sum of fleeting moments. Her favorite authors are Raymond Carver, Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, and Jhumpa Lahiri. Her favorite numbers are 3 and 7. After she graduated Oberlin College with a degree in English, she has worked tirelessly for 15+ years to build space for teens of all shades, colors, and streaks. She has been a strong advocate for the misfits, outliers, and all others in between. She earned her M.Ed. in Literacy at UNC-Chapel Hill completing her research on teacher motivation associated with gifted learners. She will be starting her Ph.D. in Fall 2019 in the area of Educational Psychology focusing on gifted and talented. She now lives with her husband Young and her 8-year-old daughter Pearl in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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