Up until 5th grade I lived with adoptive parents, who were abusive. When I was 9 my adoptive mother died, and I was put into foster care. I got placed in homes with foster parents who ranged from pretty bad to bad. I often fought with the other foster children. By age 12, I’d been in over 16 foster homes.
All that moving meant I was transferred from school to school. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. It was hard for me to fit in and make friends. I got bullied because I wore hand-me-downs and glasses. I probably looked weak to bullies because I cried a lot due to the abuse at home.
Even so, I was interested in learning new things. But I often couldn’t complete my homework because my foster homes didn’t have a quiet space for me to work. Few of my foster parents helped me with my schoolwork or encouraged me.
Yet I still did my schoolwork and managed to get acceptable grades. In 8th grade, I spent about three months at a school I really liked. Unlike my previous schools, the teachers reached out to me and encouraged me. They said I was a smart kid.
For instance, once my math teacher noticed I was upset because I had done poorly on a math test. I usually got As or Bs. She pulled me aside after class. “It’s OK that you didn’t do well. I know if you just study a little harder next time you will,” she said. I felt better because she had faith in my capabilities.
I also made a few friends. I finally felt a sense of belonging and it felt good.
But when I got the news that I was moving again, I got fed up. This was my 11th placement; I was sick of moving. Having to change homes again and leave a school I liked made me feel like it didn’t matter if I did well or not. I figured I might as well stop trying. In a few months, I went from conscientious student to barely attending.
Sadness Becomes Anger
I cut class and hung out with friends, smoked, and drank. When I did go to school, I cursed out teachers and students and got into fights. All the sadness I felt when I was younger now manifested itself as anger.
My high school was overcrowded and unorganized. Hundreds of kids roamed the halls, and many of those in class were disruptive. I couldn’t keep my focus in this school.
By the third week I had already gotten into a fight with a girl because I talked to her boyfriend. I got suspended for three days. I kept getting suspended for fighting, cursing teachers out, and wandering the halls.
The summer before high school, I had been placed with the Garcia family: Mom Jenny, Dad Jose, and six kids, some adopted, some foster, and some biological. They were kind and loving, but I didn’t know it for a while, so I kept acting out.
Discouragement, Not Support
One day I sat down in 9th grade math class and started the work written on the board. The teacher took attendance and when I said, “Here,” she said, “Wow, you are actually in class.”
“Don’t get used to it,” I said, feeling irritable.
I finished the work on the board and handed it in. I got some of the answers right.
She said, “You got almost all of the problems wrong. Go to your seat.”
“Obviously I got them wrong because I haven’t learned any of this material.”
“How can you learn if you never come to class? Why do you even come to school if you’re not going to do anything? You should just stay home.”
“Obviously you’re not smart enough to be a teacher, ho.” And I walked out.
That teacher was wrong about me. I actually wanted to learn.
It hurt that no one at these schools tried to find out why I might have been so angry or to get to know me. They didn’t know my capabilities. They didn’t know my past or what I was going through.
Other teachers began to ask why I bothered to show up to school. I told them to leave me alone and mind their own business. One teacher said sarcastically to a class full of students, “You don’t want to be like her, never coming to class and getting all zeros. Yeah, that will definitely get her to college.”
Be Me for a Day
I had so much built-up anger and frustration that disrespecting teachers and fighting felt like the only way to release it. Because I’d been bullied, I didn’t want anyone picking on me or thinking I was weak, so I acted tough.
But deep down I felt bad. Looking back, I don’t think it was the teachers I was mad at. In some cases, they were right: I should have gone to class and showed them that I am smart and capable.
But I felt so alone in the houses I lived in. I didn’t think anyone could relate to me. So I bottled everything up and blasted it on the first person that bothered me—usually a teacher.
I wished those teachers knew the real me and my potential. I can’t blame them; they only saw the bad side of me. But I was going through so much. I wish they had taken the time to get to know more about me and my situation.
Feeling Loved and Safe
After I had been living with the Garcias for a while, my life got better.
My foster mom paid attention to me and knew I was smart. She didn’t like the school I was in because she felt it was too riled up and loud. She began researching other schools for me.
In the beginning of my junior year my mom found Construction Trades Engineering and Architecture High School (CTEA). It’s not far from my house and the school ratings are decent.
Around the same time, my foster mom told me she wanted to legally adopt me. When the adoption went through, I felt loved and safe for the first time.
Now that I am stable in both school and home, I have more respect for teachers. I don’t see them as adults harassing me or ignoring my pain anymore. Because I feel more comfortable and welcomed in school, I can appreciate them pushing me to do my best. I feel valued because they are interested in my academics and help me.
Connecting to History
In my history class, my teacher does his best to make the class less boring.
He’ll put a quote on the board and say, “Describe what you feel about the quote and explain if you agree or disagree.”
One day, the quote was, “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all,” by Elie Wiesel, a writer who survived the Nazi Holocaust.
I raised my hand to answer the question. I wouldn’t have done that before, but a lot has changed. I have support from my teachers and that gives me confidence. I said, “This quote is true because if you keep quiet about bad things you see or hear, you’re just as bad as the person doing it. For example, when someone is being bullied and others laugh about it, record it, or even sit and watch, they’re a bystander. They’re saying it is OK. If one person speaks up, others will eventually follow.”
I made this connection because when I was bullied nobody stuck up for me. I couldn’t do anything about it and I felt powerless. The Jews in Germany were also powerless to stop Hitler. But when other countries—bystanders—joined together to fight the Nazis they stopped the bully. The teacher’s use of this quote helped me make a connection between history and my life.
My history teacher also does gallery walks, with documents posted in different areas of the class. We walk around the class in groups and answer questions about each document. Instead of sitting at a desk all the time, we get to move around and read different things.
The teachers at CTEA speak from their personal knowledge and don’t just read from the books. The class is more engaged when the teacher talks to us rather then lecturing us.
Also there is no drama in this school. I fit in well with both the students and the teachers. I went from being a kid who didn’t care about classes to a kid who participates and focuses on her academics. Now teachers push me forward, instead of trying to push me out.