Magazine

14 January 2019

To label or not to label…

I have heard this ‘debate’ so many times, however, most often, it is those who do not have a child with Special Educational Needs or Disability (SEND) that have the strongest opinions regarding labelling a child. Not always, but often.



I have been a Teacher of English for about 9 years now and in the middle of that, I parked my career to have children.

Several years ago, I was teaching a top set year 10 class. They were frighteningly bright but, as most kids are, frighteningly judgemental.

There was a boy in the class – Lewis (*not his real name). He was the one that all the students thought was ‘weird’. When I changed the seating plan, they sighed at the thought of being the one that would end up sitting with him. Lewis knew it too. It broke my heart a bit to be completely honest. He genuinely didn’t seem to mind that no one wanted to sit with him, but he knew. However, I frequently changed my seating plan in a bid to “spread the genius”, the idea being that sitting with different people may give them different ideas when working. No one wanted Lewis’ ideas because he hung on the same point for so long until he had fully explored it. Which I loved.

Anyway, one particular creative writing assessment we had to do was to do with Room 101 – writing about something they really hated.

Some students had some brilliantly funny ones: cream egg goo; shopping trolleys that kept rolling to the left or the smell of a new car. Other pupils had more serious ones: grandfather’s cancer, parents divorce or the hospital where their friend passed away. It turned out to be quite cathartic for many of them.

At the beginning of the next lesson, Lewis brought his work to me telling me I probably couldn’t read his terrible writing.

It wasn’t neat, but it was most definitely readable.

After reading it, I gently asked if he would allow me to read it to the class. He shrugged nonchalantly and agreed, unphased by what I was asking.

Once the class had settled, I told them I was going to read one of the essays I had been handed.
I read about a boy who had always been classed as ‘the naughty kid’ at school, about the boy who struggled to make friends and had a huge desire to have things the same way all the time. I read an essay about a boy who, because of his ‘behaviour’, had been made to change schools on more than one occasion, which was a hellish experience for him, not only because of the routine change but because he just could not make friends. This boy went through his whole school life lonely and labelled only as ‘naughty’.

Sadly, he wasn’t correctly labelled until later that he had Asperger’s. His mother had fought for years for a diagnosis for him and once it came, his life was only moderately better because he was unable to explain it to his peers.

So in that lesson, I became his voice. And what an honour it was.

When I finished reading and looked up, the whole class and I mean every single student was in tears. Lewis was looking slightly perplexed at me, not really understanding why everyone was looking at him like that. It wasn’t pity, that much was clear. It was a sudden realisation. A sudden understanding from these young people who had been inadvertently labelling Lewis as ‘weird’ for so long. They got it. He wasn’t weird at all. He just looked at the world differently to them. He didn’t want to talk about the same boring topic for ages, his brain just couldn’t move forward until he had properly understood it.

At that moment, I had the most important job in the world and it was wonderful. The dynamics of that whole class changed and no one complained about the seating plan ever again! And for the first time ever, Lewis had a really genuine group of friends.

May I also just add, Lewis passed his English GCSE with flying colours… and he didn’t even answer the literature essay question that we had studied in class. He picked a different one that we hadn’t studied, and he aced it!

So my thoughts on labelling are fairly clear I think. If we, as educators know what is going on, we can teach your child accordingly and nurture those nuances that make your children amazing. We can also educate other students. Why watch a child be bullied or ignored throughout their whole school life when all it takes is a little understanding?

Written by Sam @samnash45





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1 comment

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