Teacher—that is what so many little girls answered when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. I don’t even think any of these children realized how that profession could affect a child’s view of themselves. We’ve all had teachers in our life that are fondly remembered as being nurturing counselors, or who have guided us when we were lost; often providing a much-needed boost in confidence that might have been lacking at home. For those that went to Parochial Schools, the teachers were often nuns. But the same thing applies: some people were just not equipped to be shaping young minds and have sometimes inflicted great damage. Just like parents, careless or cruel words can have an impact on a developing psyche. I still remember that I was a “dreamy” child who often “checked out”, choosing to look out the window or daydream during class in First Grade. My First Grade teacher assigned a name for me—“Molasses.” This was because I seemed to move in slow motion, apparently and the implication was that I was dumb. At my age, to this day, I still can feel the sting I felt when she called me this and it succeeded in making me feel inferior and stupid (a feeling I was bombarded with at home too). I later found out that I had anemia, which made me draggy and sleepy, but regardless, that “name” or “label” stuck with me. My Third Grade teacher was a bully and incited such fear in me because she seemed to have an actual hatred for me. This caused me to shut down, stop doing my homework, and slowly draw into myself. The nastier she was with me, the worse I became so that I was actually in danger of getting left back. Luckily my mom took charge and helped me get my work up to date. My father actually wrote a letter to her, calling her an ogre, which made things worse. I finally ended up being referred to the school psychologist (Miss Mack) who used to tell me to just “forget her” and got me through that rough time. My Seventh Grade math teacher was a carbon copy of the Third Grade one and ridiculed me in front of the class incessantly, to the point of tears. Nuns can sometimes be just as bad too. My friend, who went to Catholic school, told me about constant daily cruelty inflicted upon a poor boy (most likely autistic), which one day ended up with a basket being overturned on his head (much to the enjoyment of the rest of the class). My friend was horrified and I felt the same way when she told me what happened. The point I am trying to make is that some people, although wonderful in every way, may not have that special quality that makes a great teacher. If we were able to run a survey that spanned decades, I wonder how many children had their dreams and spirit squashed by the very people who should be inspiring them. I wonder how many people did not pursue their dreams or lost confidence due to a supposedly casual name such as “Molasses”. Teachers can be inspirational and uplifting mentors—and many are—but it is too bad that so many of them don’t realize that.
Labels; humans have a need to put these on people to categorize and make assumptions about them. I know it is so hurtful yet I have been the perpetrator as well as the recipient. It is so prevalent that most people don’t even realize that they are guilty. I think it is so very common in families, and can form your personality; often affecting the choices in your occupation, school, spouse, financial decisions, your level of happiness, and virtually every aspect of your life. We all know that family dynamics dictate that everybody in a family has a specific “role” even though it is not officially assigned. Among siblings, there is usually the “smart one” or “studious one”, the “athlete”, the “lazy one,” the “trouble maker”, the “fat one”, the “pretty one”, “the drinker”, etc. Whatever the role we play in our family, it often sticks with us, so that if as a child, we were not expected to excel in anything, whereby our sibling was the “golden child”, we often live up or down to that label. Never mind that life and people change as they grow, and the label may not fit someone anymore or the “roles” have been reversed. It is no wonder that so many people dread family gatherings because no matter how hard they have worked to shed their “role” in the family, they still feel like time has stood still and the same old childhood insecurities come to the surface. But outside of the family, the mentally ill, disabled, physically ill, older person, or anyone that is not “perfect” (young and able) has a label stamped on them too. I used to see an ad for a hospital that said something like, “We treat John like John, not “cancer.” As soon as we find out that someone is “paranoid schizophrenic”, or “borderline personality” or “autistic”, we immediately make a judgment about them; that they are violent, or out of it, or that they are not even a person anymore. I’ve heard it said that “your illness does not define you”, much like the ad I saw so many years ago. The same holds true for age as well. I know people assume you are a doddering old fool, with no goals, or dreams or anything to contribute to society once you reach a certain age. I know when I fill out forms at the doctor’s office, listing my age, the staff get a mental picture of what I will look like so when they call me they are surprised at how “young” I look. You get an invisible label stamped on you which affects how people treat you and unfortunately too often how you view yourself too. This “label” can apply to race too, thinking that all black men are violent, or all Asians are “smart” or whatever preconceived notions you may have. Labels are a way to perpetuate assumptions, which are usually just prejudices in disguise. In this celebrity worshipping society, focused on youth, perfection, wealth, beauty, and glamour, people who don’t fall into those categories get lumped together with a “label” and are deemed throwaways–less worthy and valuable in this world.