People react very differently to the idea of “labeling.” The middle schooler self-labels, but the high schooler rejects any labeling. Then in college, he embraces them again, identifying himself with fraternal labels and career-intent labels and such. The college graduates’ degree, her passed qualifying exam, and a subsequent job entitle her to a hard-earned label, which she wears like a badge.
Why is it, then, that so many parents do not want their kids labeled? I know when I used to teach on military posts, parents would prohibit labels that might get their struggling child the help he needed because it might cause a “compassionate reassignment,” something they saw as the kiss of death to their careers. (Educators and military leaders have worked together to make sure this is not the case anymore.)
I think some people confuse “stereotyping” with “labeling.” I am a Christian, but I wince when I see what some people who also label themselves Christians do in the same of Jesus Christ. Their actions may be stereotypical, but those actions in no way lessen my Christianity.
I have been quandarying over how to get a group of kids I’m working with to quit acting upon every impulse. I have jokingly called them “Touch the but” kids – a reference to the dare Little Nemo takes that ultimately causes him to be swept out to sea. When I say, “Don’t touch that,” they look straight at me while touching the very thing I just said not to touch! Their impulse-driven behavior extends to every facet of the day, making the teaching of four or five of them feel like I’ve been herding cats.
But they’re not bad kids; in fact, they are some of my most unique students… highly intelligent and creative. I use the “label” not to brand them, but rather to search the Internet to find strategies that will allow me to get them to obey without breaking their “spirit.” They cannot be the only ones like them in the world. Good grief, Mark Twain wrote about these kids when he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer!
I’m a woman, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife, a teacher, a principal, a coach, a mentor, a Christian, a singer, and a registered voter (although, for the life of me, I don’t identify with either major party right now!), but none of these labels defines me. They just give you a better picture of who I am. Labels aren’t about you; they’re intended to make you less of a mystery to everyone else! If I refuse to label myself a “mom,” does that make me any less a mom to my children? If educators incorrectly label your child, go for it. Rage against the machine. But if the label fits, do some research of your own on the Internet, the goal being to give your child every opportunity to succeed. Then you will earn one more label: your child’s champion!