Short and simple today. It’s a mistake I’ve made. But it’s one I’m working really hard to not make any more.
I think it is wrong to label students as “low.” It’s not appropriate to do it in the principal’s office or the teacher’s lounge. I don’t think it should happen in the hallways or during meetings. Educators are really good people, salt of the earth. They are in the greatest profession in the world and almost always for the right reasons. I don’t think we do this for malicious reasons but instead because we get lazy with our vocabulary and it becomes part of how we talk. This isn’t about one school or one district because I’ve heard this all over the state. It’s wrong for many reasons, but here are the three that seem to stand out most.
- “Low” based on what? Lower than others? Lower than an expectation? Low for that moment in time? Low cognitively? Low as a human? Low for their ability to contribute to society? They are 8. We don’t have a crystal ball. Drop the label. The label really goes against all we know about children. We know that they develop at different rates, on a different timeline, for a great number of reasons. By labeling them as “low,” you are refuting what we know about kids and their ability to grow and develop. Let’s say you have a 2nd grader, who in November is not yet at the grade level expectation established by the school district. He has been labeled as “low” by school staff. Does that help at all? Labeling that student “low” doesn’t take into account all who that student is. We support the whole child, right? Let’s not simply look at that reading score, but the type of work habits they have. There should be a focus on their personal characteristics. Maybe that student is showing a great ability in music, art, athletics, science, or something else. Whole child, whole child, whole child. Let’s not use a label that gives us such a narrow perspective on who that student is.
- Do you remember what you got on that 2nd-grade reading assessment? How about the 4th grade MEAP? The Algebra test your freshmen year of high school? In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that important. Maybe it’s because there is more to life than that. Maybe it’s because those are not accurate predictors about the type of person or professional you may become. All of us as educators are under pressure to improve test scores, but this isn’t about that at all. At that moment in time, that test score may be the best the student is capable of. That can change significantly in 5 weeks, 5 months, or 5 years. Or, maybe that test score is on par with how they may score throughout their school career, but the focus on improving their work habits, personal characteristics, and an area of interest will be the keys to success for that student. Let’s not use a label that is really a useless predictor of the type of contributor to society that student may become.
- We should always talk about kids as if they or their parents were in the room sitting right next to us. That requires a professionalism that we should mandate of ourselves and others. We have to advocate for students when no one else will. One way to do that is to give them that level of respect. Let’s not use a label that diminishes the integrity of each student.
Instead of using that label, try some other approaches that are more appropriate.
- Not yet proficient as a reader
- Needs additional support in math
- Point out their strengths and how building upon them will be imperative to their school success
- Find areas that are under their control and emphasize growth in those areas
- Pay special attention to the growth they are making and not just their proficiency level
I guess we all have our pet peeves. Mine just so happens to be one that I’ve been too guilty of in the past. I’m excited to start 2017 knowing this of myself and making improvements in this area.