When I was in school, especially elementary and middle school, I was labeled the "smart kid."
Don't let the title fool you; I didn't hate being the smart kid. It definitely had its advantages.
I basically taught myself to read. When my mom would read my favorite book to me at night, I would stare at the words as I listened to the sounds she made. Eventually, it clicked in my head.
I formed the connection between letters and sounds all by myself. One time, I snatched the book out of her hands and read it out loud by myself.
I got almost perfect grades on every assignment (at least until high school). I was always on the honor roll, I won certificates to my favorite restaurants for my grades, and I was encouraged to take upper-level courses once I got into high school.
School always came easy to me, and my classmates noticed it as well.
However, there were some things that went into being the "smart kid" that I would gladly trade for a D on my report card.
I was expected to work much harder than the other kids.
I would usually finish my work much earlier than the other kids, and the teachers would "reward" me with more work.
That wasn't fair; I already did what they asked me to do. Why couldn't I read for fun or draw a picture instead?
I remember a time in first grade when the teacher realized I was reading at a much more advanced level than the rest of the kids. I had no clue what that meant; I was only six years old.
During a movie day, she pulled me aside and gave me a book to read instead. She didn't explain why; she just told me to read it. When I finished reading, she would make me read it again multiple times.
I just wanted to watch the movie like the other kids. Why was I being separated from my classmates?
Everyone used me for personal gain.
Even if you don't realize your status as the "smart kid," your classmates will pick up on it very quickly.
The kids would always copy off my work rather than try their best. They expected me to willingly "help" them. Not only was I the "smart kid," but I was also the "nice kid" (a.k.a. the class pushover).
If I told the teacher on them, they would call me "mean," "nerd" "loser," etc. I already got bullied almost every day for other reasons; I didn't need to give these kids any more fuel for the fire.
When I would ask them why they were copying off me, they would answer, "It's because you're smart," as if that made it right.
That would be like stealing someone's expensive belongings and justifying their theft because "the person I stole from was rich."
No matter what title someone has on them, cheating and stealing are wrong.
Finally, I got bullied a lot.
I'm not sure if the kids realized my name was Sarah, not "four-eyes," "Brainiac," "nerd" "geek," or "weirdo."
When I won the third grade spelling bee with the word "neutralize," my "best friend" called me a nerd because I was the winner. Instances like these happened all the time, and it made me want to stop trying.
Eventually, I started failing on purpose.
For the spelling bees after that, I would spell words wrong intentionally even though I knew how to spell them right.
I would pretend I didn't understand the material we were learning just so the kids and teachers would take some pressure off me.
Even though I was lying, I was relieved.
How much of this "smart kid" thing was a self-fulfilling prophecy? What if the teachers equally distributed their motivating efforts to all of the kids rather than singling me out and letting the other kids slack off?
Maybe I wouldn't have been bullied, used or excluded. We all could've been given a fair chance.