At the first of the year, teachers often visit each others classes and have a “who’s who” discussion of the students that came from their class. This gives the new teacher information about the students’ academic abilities, personality, and “disabilities” so that before the student even enters the room, the teacher has some sort of idea about who they are, where they came from, and what their place will be in the classroom setting. Will the student be an over achiever? Will the student be a behavioral concern? Will the student be shy? While gaining information about students is one of a teachers top priorities, the type of information received can be skewed.
In a classroom, a teacher will find a variety of extremely diverse children that are connected by common threads but are nevertheless very different. After 2 years of teaching, in my third year I am beginning to see the web of connections in and between my students and myself as well as the variables outside of them that affect who they are. This has led me to analyze the affect that labels have on students – classifying and sorting students into various categories based on their mental disabilities and their physical disabilities. Notice how I have termed them “disabilities,” instead of “abilities.” It is the culture of school to term students as having “disabilities,” and I have come to understand that the sentiment behind this is to be helpful. After all, teachers are teachers because they want to help others grow and gain knowledge so as to improve the lives of others and allow them to have the life they want to have. But if we look at the affect that labeling creates, we will see that it has more of a negative connotation.
When a teacher tells a students’ new teacher about his/her behavioral issues or his/her academic standing, all the new teacher sees when that student walks into the room is this image that has been implanted in their head based on another person’s judgement. The intentions behind this are usually good natured; teachers want to help other teachers understand the student and to alert them of things they need to address quickly so as to help the student get what they need in school. The issue comes when the sole focus is the students “disability” or “ability.”
In the article The Cultural Work of Learning Disabilities, McDermott, Goldman, and Varenne pose that a student with a label such as LD, ELL, ADD, economically disadvantaged, at risk, etc, have behaviors that are “quite normal…their actions make sense as responses to the environments provided by adults…and the same behavior can be found in most classrooms around the country. The labels are not so much facts about specific children as they are mirrors to what happens in classrooms run by the survival-of-the-show-off-smartest logic of American education.” Just because a behavior isn’t as common, why does that mean it is not “normal?” The behavior could be a response to the environments they have been surrounded by, or could be derived from their birth. Either way, what I have interpreted from McDermott, Goldman, and Varenne is that labeling is derived from the social/cultural competitive nature of society and does little to benefit the student. I have heard teachers say that if they don’t have a label, they will not get what they need in terms of extra support. My question is, why must a student be labeled in order to receive the help they need to be successful? Why can’t a need be identified, proper assessments made, and help given? The end. No labels, no judgement, no putting students in deficit categories.
What happens with labeling is you are so focused on the label, that you miss the child. For example, when you shine light through a prism and a rainbow appears, focusing on the label would be like focusing on only one of the colors, making it bolder and stronger than any of the others. In reality, the colors reflected are of equal amount. A student is not made up of one characteristic, whether they are “able” or “disable,” students have many facets and it is important for teachers to get to know all of them and utilize them to engage the student in learning opportunities. A teachers job is to help students be successful and to teach them how to lead productive and healthy lives. When we label students, we are showing them and the rest of society that they are not able to perform as adequately compared to other students. I can’t think of anything positive that comes from this stigma.