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Living Up to the Label

This week, I found myself remembering a particular primary teaching colleague from many years ago who was handed her class list for the next school year. The school used a “traffic light” system to distribute challenges fairly amongst that year level’s teachers.

The problem for this teacher was that she was an absolute gun educator. As such, there were observably a lot more “red” students on her list than the other teachers.

She immediately got to work. In the final weeks of the school year, she carried a notebook and jotted down anything positive or kind that a member of her forthcoming cohort did.

At the start of the next year, she met her class beaming and proclaiming to her class that the Principal must have stuffed up by giving her “the best-behaved class in the school”.

The kids looked at each other incredulously.

Then she read the notes she’d made to the class to prove it to them. Relentless is the only word I can think of to describe her continued application of the label “best-behaved class in the school” to her class in the ensuing days and weeks.

And it genuinely worked.

The students started announcing to specialists that “the best-behaved class in the school is here, Miss” when they arrived at the art room door or the gymnasium for PE. The Principal even started using that moniker when she visited their room.

The students began flat-out ignoring anyone who called them 6B. That wasn’t their name or label.

The thing that humans are most inclined to do with labels is to live up to them. If everyone seems to agree that you’re the angry kid, the caller outerer, the dumb kid or … yep, a red kid … then you’re likely to live up to that label.

But if you’re an active, paid-up and valued member of the best-behaved class in the school …

Keep fighting that good fight,


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