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Gifted Educators- Donnette Alexander

October 14, 2012

We are extremely pleased to announce a new series of articles for our upcoming editions. The focus of these articles will be profiles of CISD educators who excel in meeting the needs of our GT children. These educators are so passionate in what they do, are so invested in their teaching, that it clearly shows in the quality of the education our children receive. We are extremely honored and pleased to kick off our new series “Gifted Educators” with a profile on CHS Economics IB/AP teacher Donnette Alexander.

Her list of accomplishments is seemingly endless. A GT student herself, as a child growing up in California, she truly understands the unique needs of the Gifted and Talented, with a sense of empathy that can only come from years of solid experience. Before she turned to teaching Economics, she had about seven years experience working for a Fortune 500 company, and that gives her a perspective of the real world, and she is able to share that perspective with her students. She was nominee for CISD Teacher of the Year in 2010. She has been associated with the school’s Academic Decathlon team; she was head coach for 12 years and assistant for 2 years. She likes to cook, decorate cakes, takes part in book clubs, makes baby quilts… her list of hobbies and talents seem to go on and on. At the end of the interview, what we came away with, was a feeling that our children could not be in better hands, that she was an educator who truly understands what it means to teach a GT student, who goes above and beyond in meeting the needs of her students, who is truly the whole package. Here’s some of what she had to say.

About her career change, from corporate America to teaching high school Economics

I’m someone who needs innate motivation and although I made a lot of money in business, I found myself wondering whether it was a valuable career, whether anybody really cared, if what I did mattered, whether the purpose of it was important in the grand scheme of things. I had always wanted to teach, and its absolutely the most fun job I’ve ever had. I love doing it. I feel like what I do makes a difference and that’s something that I need as a person. I hope that at the end of each year, I’ve made a difference to at least one or two students’ lives.

Texas is one of the states which require Economics for graduation. I think that is an excellent idea because it is such a practical course, for citizenship, to understand what is going on in politics, to be able to read and understand news reports, but also in terms of personal finance, to be able to make good decisions, about your own business and finances. We have such a strong business community here in Coppell, so many of our parents are actively involved in business in a variety of different forms, and frankly whether you are an engineer or a doctor or lawyer you are, in effect, running a business.

About what it means to take one of her higher level economics courses

The higher level class is a two year course in which we expand our knowledge base even more than what we do with the one year course.  We’ve run our own business, raising money for our micro lending activity. We loan money to third world entrepreneurs to help them raise their standard of living through Kiva. The students have raised about a $1000, (part of that will go to paying for the products so we’ve cleared about $600-$700 dollars) which will be loaned to people in developing countries to raise their standard of living. The students have had a lot of fun picking people to loan to- anywhere from people who needed spears and fish hooks to go fishing, to people to buy or repair taxis because they are running a taxi service. We’ve loaned money to an 80 year old man who was expanding his cattle business. It’s fun to hear the back stories and discuss whether this is a good place to loan money, or is this a good business model, do we think they can repay it, is it buying capital or what are they doing with the money. So it helps strengthen the concepts we learn in class.

About the influences in her life

I’ve had some wonderful teachers in my own life both in high school and college. My parents and my grandmother were influential in stressing that it’s not enough just to live your life and make money,that you need to live a life of value and service.

About her learning from the corporate world

When I worked in the corporate world, I worked with people from a variety of different walks of life, from various parts of the world, and you had to be able to see their different point of view in order to work with them. I try to make my students understand that you have to be able to see other viewpoints, and be able to talk to people from where they come from, to understand socioeconomic differences, in order to be successful in whatever they want to do.

About what it means to teach GT students

I think GT students are so much fun to work with but they are a very challenging group because of their diversity. You get the GT students who are highly creative and their ideas are just going 90 miles for nothing; you get the Gifted and Talented who are very serious, and their capacity for information is just unlimited, they are very structured. Trying to teach a class that can meet the needs of all those kids is very challenging as a teacher. It is a challenge but it’s also fun. It keeps me fresh, it keeps me interested, every year is a new adventure.

But you also have to keep in mind as a Gifted and Talented teacher that those kids have very deep emotional needs, you have to be aware that they are not just brains. You need a real sensitivity to the changes in emotions that those kids have, because of their ability to process information at such a high level can make the world seem very confusing to them, almost baffling. Sometimes they understand things before they have the emotional construct to put it in context, and so they just need someone to talk to, and you have to make yourself available to that, and listen.

Sometimes when I listen to them talk, I see myself. As a kid, I had very high expectation for myself. I think that because you are processing so much information, and you have so much ability, people are asking so much of you and they think you are doing it easily. But sometimes you are not. Sometimes you are demanding so much of yourself that you are overwhelming yourself, and someone needs to say, “take a deep breath, its ok”, and for an adult to say that to you is what you need to hear if you are a kid. You just need help putting life in perspective. And I think that sometimes we need to be aware of that as adults. We need to say “Yes you have a lot on your plate, and it is ok to prioritize, it is ok to take a deep breath and go do something else for a while and come back to it.” Helping them to get a sense of perspective is what I see as my job.

About the changes she would like to see in the future

One of the issues we have, and I know there is probably nothing we can do about it, is the school building itself, the classes were designed to hold 24 kids, I have 35 and 37. Although I am fortunate enough to have one of the larger classrooms in the building, it still limits what I can do, because we can’t really move around the class. Perhaps if we had smaller tables and chairs, kids could get around easier. Smaller furniture would enable us to be more flexible, we could move in and out of small groups, we could walk around a little better, we could just be more flexible.

I think one of the biggest problems we have right now with our school is the schedule. Seven periods a day are just not suited to our current method of teaching. It is such an artificial construct to say we are going to do 52 min for every single class and we are just going to make everything fit. I would really prefer to talk to my kids 2 or 3 times a week, and on the other days meet with them in small groups and do practice problems or activities. That would be so much better suited for how I envision the way I want to do things.

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