Truly I wasn’t aware of “cubbyholing people” but saw it in the first grade at age five when my teacher put “smarter kids” she thought into a reading group with some dumb name like “The Bluebird Group.” Sat in my seat feeling so left out and wondering why I wasn’t in that group: I could read just as well as they could. That stigma existed all throughout my school years even though the group names went by the wayside.
It was in high school that I realized that what one teacher saw as “smarter kids” was not what I saw at all. Again, it was putting people in those cubbyholes and why for what one teacher saw was not what others saw at all. Did those that were in a cubbyhole feel different than others? Of course they did. They felt smarter even if they weren’t. And on the other hand, many teachers would cubbyhole students into a low group and I thought “Well how special is that? Everyone in that group will not only feel low but act low.” And they did and their learning seemed to go nowhere for how could they compete with each other without looking weird?
I felt sorry for those that were labeled “low or slow” when I knew darned good and well that too many were not. It was all in perception of how teachers saw their students. Perception is everything and a lot of it is so twisted and wrong when some of it was downright good. No one sees a thing the same way.
In college I saw it as well but not quite as bad as it was prior and yet it still existed—no names of groups but the stigma was there.
Forward in time to when I first started teaching and lo and behold, there was that “Let’s cubbyhole students.” I heard from another teacher “Oh you don’t want him as a student: He has bad behavior.” Didn’t say much at all for first of all, I was the youngest of the staff and second of all, I wondered about this teacher’s perception. Well I got that boy as a student and yes at first he did have bad behavior but it wasn’t till I saw him struggling to write on paper that I asked him to stay after school and talk to me.
“Is there a problem with how you’re writing?” I asked him. There was a long pause before he answered me and what he said floored me. “I’m left-handed but my parents made me use my right hand: I can’t do it.” Right there and then I knew why he had bad behavior for first of all, why would any parent make a child switch a dominant hand? And I knew that from what I learned in college, that a dominant hand indicates the dominant side of the brain. “You’re confused aren’t you?” I asked him. “You have no idea.” “Can I ask your parents to come and talk to me?” I asked him. I could see a twinge in him as he stared at me and thought maybe he’s afraid for me to do that. “Guess so” he replied.
Called his parents, they came for a meeting with me after school about a week later and although they were nice, they were on the defense. Trying my best to explain how a dominant hand is also a dominant part of the brain helped a lot. “Well I guess you can let him try” said his father. His mother was not so reluctant but finally agreed to let me help her son use his right hand.
It was a struggle for him as well as for me but lo and behold, once he started using his right hand for everything, not only did his behavior improve one hundred percent but so did his grades and most of all—his self-esteem.
From that year on, I never wanted to hear another teacher cubbyhole a child. I had to listen for how could I not? But to believe one without much documentation was doubtful.
Not teaching anymore but see this act of putting students in cubbyholes is absurd and rampant. What one perceives in a person is not what others may see at all. People are put in cubbyholes by those who perceive them in their way and to that I say “Don’t.”
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