Those struggling learners, the reluctant readers, the underachievers. All labels heard in schools on a daily basis. The tired ones, the creative types, the giften, the talented, the fidgeters, the lazy students. We label and label in order to define them all, to fit them all into a box under the pretense of being better teachers, of making our jobs easier, more manageable, more suited for differentiation. After all, if we don’t label then how will we know who needs which services? If we do not label then who will we teach at what time? How will class lists be made up to ensure balanced needs? We may not be tracking our atudents openly but the labels keep on coming.
I often ponder labels and what effect they have had on my own life. Some teachers labeled me gifted, I was not, only gifted through circumstance. Others labeled me underachieving, where rather it was in response to the teaching method. I was labeled opinionated in history, that one stuck, outspoken in English, talentless in math, and relentless in my pursuit of academic excellence in college. Labels shaped my education whether I agreed with them or not, yet how often were they shared with me? How often was I aware of what category I was placed in? And worse, how often when I was aware did it become my definition?
Some will inevitably argue that if we do not label our students whether through tests or grades then how will we rank them? How will we teach them best? If we don’t know who our strugglers are then how will we reach them? I don’t know. But what happens when those labels become all we see? What happens when the labels end up defining the student rather than the student defining the label. What happens when one teacher’s comment becomes the mold we force the student into? Can we label our students without actually harming them and impeding their learning? Can we genuinely categorize students as struggling when they are perhaps just learning at a different pace?
I hope someone has the answer.