Let me define labels for this discussion.
A piece of material attached to an object giving information about it.
But in the case of education lets say: "A cloud that sticks over a student's head throughout their educational life because of choices or determinations based on a lack of data collected by those around them.
I know that there are more definitions and Merriam Webster is pulling out their imaginary hair right now (because they in fact are not a person), but I think it is important to understand that when we label someone in a school, we are doing more than we thought. To clarify, I am not diving into the labels that have been traditionally connected to bullying, alienation, segregation, etc., but the "healthy" labels that we as education professionals bring into our schools to market our learning and encourage different portions of the population.
In the next two posts that I publish I want to explore two labels I have been in contact with:
Part 1: Hard vs. Easy Teachers
Part 2: Gifted (Pre-AP) vs. On-Level students
As a teacher...are you Hard or Easy?
Here is a quote from Jo Boaler in her book Limitless Mind:
"...a high-school math teacher in my local school district announced to his eager fifteen-year-old students who were placed in his high-level math class: "You may think you are hot shit, but no one gets above a C in this class."
I don't know about you, but I remember that teacher. I had that teacher. I frequently left that teacher's classroom frustrated and angry at them and the subject because I didn't fully understand.
The sad part... I have even been that teacher on certain tests or assignments.
That's not a good teacher.
This is a teacher who is self absorbed in their "abilities" to embrace a tough subject. More focused on their process and planning, lectures and tests than the actual learning of the students. One might argue that teachers who exude this type of attitude are actually really successful, and if I did more research I would find that more than 3 students would get a C in this class, it's simply just a way to motivate the students.
The tough part is our students have changed. We are not in my grandfather's generation where you rolled up your sleeves, buried down your thoughts and got the job done. The more information available to students and teachers has required a shift in the status quo that is continuing to grow.
Being a hard teacher today can be taken care of really easily. Students are not stuck with you if you are the "hard teacher". Online education, MOOCs, and enhanced student choice provide opportunities for the "hard teacher" to be avoided. To some this label might be a medal of honor, I remember for a brief second feeling that way when a parent relayed that comment to me. Quickly that faded into a deep concern and need to sit with that student and understand their mindset in the classroom and why I was the "hard teacher".
Now I'm not saying layover and let the students walk, but embrace ideas, models and strategies that allow for the students to thrive as they take ownership of their own path. There are many more ways to be a great teacher, being the hard teacher is not one of them.
Boaler continues in the quote from above, "Such ideas harm people, and they harm the disciplines, because access is denied to the diverse thinkers who would have provided beneficial insights and breakthroughs in these fields." (pg. 44)
Mistakes happen, attitudes can change. As a teacher are you willing to humble yourself to better equip your students? Are you willing to change the memory that your students have of you from "they were an impossible teacher" to "this teacher changed my life".
The choice is yours.
Part 2 of this series will be published soon!
Taylor currently serves as a Coordinator of Innovative Learning for a mid-sized school district in Texas. He is a speaker, writer, and coach for all who are in conflict with the status quo.