LEAven Blog


(Don’t) Read the Label

I might have had a great theatrical career if it wasn’t for my label. I earned it in kindergarten, which culminated in a graduation gala that featured a play performed by the students. Ms. Pfotenhauer chose Mr. McGregor’s Garden. She handed out costumes. I was so excited! Mine was a strap-on cardboard carrot. She said my orange-blond hair complemented the costume so well. My role was to stand there on the stage with a few other carrots and wait to see if Peter Cottontail would come along and pick us for his nibbling. I had no lines, so the cognitive challenge was not a factor.

Peter didn’t pick me. But I must have been a success. Everybody laughed. A few labeled me “carrot top.” I thought they were talking about my costume. The name and “reputation” stuck for several years. And my mother took several photos to preserve the performance for posterity (embarrassment) and for distant relatives too unfortunate to witness the production. But that wasn’t the last key role in school plays. I got to untie the cute heroine from a tree in Sioux City Sue. No lines in that one either. Must have been that C I got in memory work, thus placing me among students who couldn’t possibly learn the lines. Then my big chance came later when I learned all the lines but got stage fright and threw up just before the performance. My mother took me to a doctor, who said it was stage fright and that perhaps I should just stop being in school plays. Thus, I earned another label, which for decency’s sake I won’t report here but which prompted me to settle for singing in the pit chorus in high school. And it all started with carrot top!

Because of all these traumas, I gave up on acting and learned how to play the accordion. I got to play it on Play Night before a packed audience of accordion aficionados. (This was the south side of Chicago!) I did well, with everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, anticipating the grand finale. (Or maybe it was just a chance to escape.) I could have played forever that night. Especially since I forgot how the piece ended. I got a few labels from that one too.

The morale of this story is to be careful who you choose for play parts or musical solos. Well, okay, so it’s broader than that. The issue really is morale, which after hearing my story you were eager to point out how a veteran editor could miss the misspelling of moral.

I don’t need to tell you this. But bear with me anyway. No matter what a child does to earn it, don’t think in terms of labels. Yes, we need them for special ed. descriptions, but we don’t need to use them as a life sentence.

God blessed me with teachers in a Lutheran school who should have known better than to give me repeated chances. Their support and encouragement helped me grow up in a “grace environment.” And it must have worked well for here I am, still in Lutheran education, serving teachers in Lutheran schools who probably had experiences similar to mine.

And keep in mind that some labels actually turn out good. For me, while my thespian endeavors mercifully ended long ago, I was able to direct 100 school plays over 20 years, often using kids who had some pretty poor labels. It’s something most will remember more than anything else about school

God bless you. May you never get out of school! You’re learning to live (joyfully) with the proud label, Teacher in a Lutheran School.

Ed Grube is LEA’s Director of Communications, having served 27 years as a Lutheran school principal and 23 years in national Lutheran ministries.

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