Dear Teachers, Please Don’t Give Us Labels
When I was 12 years old, I entered high school under the Quebec system (or what the United States would call Middle School). Although I did not excel academically in elementary school, I entered high school as a student with terrible grammar errors, low reading comprehension, and a decent but low average.
When you’re 12, lots of pubescent changes are happening. You are a tween or soon-to-be teenager with lots of hormonal changes. You start to develop crush feelings for people in your classes and you start to experience your teenage phases. Boy, being a 12-year-old tween has taught me many life lessons that I am still growing and learning.
I remembered this story as if it happened yesterday.
“Britney has Down Syndrome. Therefore, she can’t perform well as her classmates.”
— My elementary science teacher.
When I was younger, I was not good at science.
I failed my science tests with the 60s or 70s % range (it was somewhere around that line.) In fact, I was terrible at science that I had to redo once my science test to boost my grades. I think a lot of my failed science tests are derived from my traumatic memories in elementary school and the gender stereotypes.
The incident I’m about to tell you happened when I was in sixth grade. I was an innocent, sensitive little girl who’s been bullied all her life and trying to succeed in sixth grade so she can graduate with her peers. I was overweight at the time and had awful Asian bowl-cut bangs. But somehow, I had a few friends and best friends that come and go and I enjoyed my elementary years.
Then one day, I graduated from elementary school.
On graduation day, my friends and I cried and hugged each other for graduating elementary school together. We were happy that we all succeeded together. Nevertheless, I was glad I had supporting friends and classmates. I cannot believe that one day I’m with these people, and the next we departed to our own paths.
As for physical and facial beauty, I did not look as pretty as the other girls, but I was decent. I was also relatively shorter than all of my classmates. I was about 4″9. (To the online trolls and someone in my elementary class once called me ugly.)
A few days after sixth-grade graduation was over, it was the end of the year. And that means we get our report cards. I passed elementary school and waved bye to all of my elementary teachers. I walked home with my sibling.
As we were walking home, my youngest sibling told me he heard my science teacher saying to another teacher (or to him personally, I don’t remember the exact details), “Britney has Down Syndrome. Therefore, she cannot perform well as her classmates.”
At the time, innocent, little, sixth-grade Britney did not know what was Down Syndrome. I thought it was some mental disability similar to Autism. I told my sibling “Are you sure? I hope you’re not making up jokes.” I exclaimed, with a worried look.
My sibling told me he heard it. No joke. In all seriousness. If my sibling had lied to me, I would’ve known when he lied. At that point, I believed in my sibling.
Once we have arrived at home, I took my library card. I told my parents that I’m heading to the library to use the computers to do my research. My parents were okay with it, but as long as I was careful and safe on my way home — then I should be fine. I quickly left to go to the library by walking there. Once I got there, I jumped onto a computer desk, logged the details into my account and searched up “Down Syndrome.”
As I continuously read on Down Syndrome, I saw a couple of pictures of Down Syndrome children. I started reading articles and symptoms of Down Syndrome. As I stared at the symptoms, I looked at my reflection on the computer screen. I saw that one of the symptoms were “Short neck,” “Poor muscle tone,” “Short height,” “Broad, short hands with a single crease in the palm,” and “Relatively short fingers and small hands and feet,” which I have small hands and feet, small height, short neck, a left palm with a simian crease and a right palm with a normal broken palm crease.
Feeling panicked, I was scared if I had it. As a 12-year-old teenager, I was scared of other’s perception. In fact, I was afraid of their gossip and was concerned of my overall appearance. Puberty had an effect on me.
I thought for a minute: “Is that why Mr. *my science teacher’s name* assumed that I have Down Syndrome because I have an intellectual disability? Does he really think my face looks like physical deformity? Does he think I am dumb? Why did he judge me by looks and immediately assume it?”
As I sat at the library computer in tranquility, I started tearing up.
I logged out of my account quickly and went home with tears in my eyes. As I was reflecting this on my way home, that comment broke my heart. Was my science teacher thinking I was mentally and physically disabled? Was he thinking I was considered an ugly duckling, just because I was not part of the norm of students in my class? Do I really look like that? Does he think I looked like them? Many thoughts and questions wondered inmy little, sixth-grade mind.
As an innocent sixth grader, I was trying to enjoy my childhood life to the fullest, but no I cannot because I was being criticized by many negative comments from my science teacher and classmates. I guess that’s what the adult world looks like: people make judgements of others, people talk trash, people are not happy.
While I am still reading Jim Kwik’s Limitless book, I agree with Jim when he states:
“Often when you put a label on someone or something, you create a limit — the label becomes the limitation.”
— Jim Kwik
I agree with that statement because never give labels to your students, as the tag limits or hinders their full potential.
Our attitudes can affect others. According to Dr. Art Markman (Ph.D.) in The Danger of Labeling Others (or Yourself) published in Psychology Today, when we give prejudice stereotypes to people, we are fixated on that belief that we see it as evidence.
He mentioned, “if people were trained to think that personality characteristics can change, then they might do better in school.” If only educators can teach that way of thinking in school.
I don’t want to reveal much about the studies as it can be manipulated, but Dr. Markman ends off with this quote: “Ultimately, it is important to realize that you should not completely define the people in your life by their current behavior.”
The reason why I am telling my story is that teachers, future teachers, and professors; please don’t give us students labels. These labels are hurtful. Especially if these labels are given at a very young age, they can stitch into our memory and lives that harm our self-esteem or even traumatize us for life.
Do you like it when we call you, dumb/stupid teacher? no.
Do you like it when we call you, worthless teacher? no.
Do you like it when we call you, ugly teacher? no.
You get my point.
Don’t ever call any child “disabled, dumb, idiotic, stupid, ugly, worthless, or whatever negative title.” Your words do affect the way a student percept you. Be careful with your word choice. Choose your vocabulary wisely. Just because they do not conform to their classmates doesn’t mean that is the time to harass or put them down.
Here’s an advice:
As professional it may sound; you are an educator with higher education. You are there to teach the leaders of tomorrow. Not to bash them or put down their self-esteem. Today we are your students, but tomorrow we are the future.
Every student in the world, regardless of their race, social-economic status, biological sex, and age have potential in succeeding in the future. It is what and how we choose it directs our life towards a better future. For example, I know a friend who dropped out of high school, took a break in schooling then came back in finishing their high school diploma and is now in college. It is amazing where you shift your goals and thinking to.
A thing I have learned in school is that teachers (and parents) have a huge influence on our perceptions. Although some may argue that personality is fixed or changeable, just note that educators can influence its students.
Please treat us students with respect. Always believe in your students. Believe that they have potential.
Even if you hate them, don’t name call or shame them. You may never know when you need us one day. Instead, comment on the positive aspects about them.
As I looked back to those diary entries today, I still cry about that story. Till this day, I never forgave my elementary science teacher for telling behind my back these negative comments. I also felt offended because my elementary science teacher called me “disabled,” even though I was not disabled. However, I was born as a healthy premature baby so I have no clue where did he get the label, Down Syndrome.
And plus, how can he know that I have Down Syndrome? Did he randomly judged me based on my appearance and the way I act? Throughout my years in elementary, I was given the same education equally as everyone else. I did not receive any special treatments, a helper guide, nor papers in my files that say I was born with an intellectual disability.
I don’t even know why that science teacher became an elementary teacher in the first place, after calling me that word. Apparently, he used to teach high school students and decided to switch to younger kids because he liked teaching to younger kids.