Monday, March 17, 2014

Reacting to labels

 I don't know about you, but I check expiration dates on food more than I like to admit. Once a particular food item has reached its due date I automatically wave good bye. I don't know why I can't get past that stupid date. I know I'm not going to die if I eat yogurt that expired yesterday, but somehow I can't get past the label. 

The same can be said about disabilities. We see these labels on people and assume that such and such person is going to be too much to handle just based on a label that is tied to their name. I'm 100% guilty of this and I teach special education. 

During my first year of teaching I was given a student who had a label of autism. Before I even laid eyes on this kid I already felt like I knew him just based on his label. A part of me was excited, my first student with autism and then the other part of me was feeling oh dear autism. When he walked in my room I automatically noticed his size; he towered over my 5'1" frame. I braced myself for what he was going to pull out of his autism bag of tricks. Class was coming to a close and I decided to lay down the law. I walked over and sternly explained the way I ran my class and how I had zero tolerance for any funny business. He politely sat at his desk and nodded along.

Weeks passed and nothing happened. No major explosions, meltdowns or nightmares occurred. All the stories and scenarios I read about autism was not playing itself out in my classroom. To be completely honest I was a little disappointed. I mean how could I earn my "autism badge of courage" if I didn't deal with a major autism related catastrophe? I slowly began to realize that I had over reacted to this student's label. 

When I came to this realization I was horrified. How could I judge someone based on their label? I hated when I was treated differently based on my label and now I was partaking in the same type of judgement. I understand why students must carry around their label so we can provide them with the best education possible, but is there a way that we can bypass the overreacting to their label?

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