Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 15 2012

Everything Wrong With The World

I got a phone call tonight from a former student… if you’ve been reading my blog long enough, I hope you can guess who. (Yep! THIS KID.) Unfortunately, the call was heartbreak after heartbreak, but you’re going to have to re-live it with me.


I’ll let you digest all of the things wrong with this picture without too much narration from me. The only context I want to add is to make sure you don’t get the wrong impression of my protagonist himself (but go ahead and be as horrified as possible with the world in this story). This boy is an absolutely wonderful kid who has had a long list of devastatingly terrible things happen to him. He’s violent and tough and can be very disrespectful, but he’s also blatantly only like that because he was too young to know how to handle all of the terrible things life threw at him early. He can be dreadful with adults, but he is painstakingly kind and deeply protective of anyone younger than him, anyone weaker than him, his friends, and girls. He has a nurturing instinct like I’ve never seen… make sure you notice that as you read. Also, keep in mind that I taught him in eighth grade – last year.


I answered the phone and was immediately flooded by disasters.


“Ms. Mathinaz! I just got into a big argument with [our former assistant principal]. I told him I was going to kill him and burn the school down. He told my girlfriend that she needed to get a restraining order against me, but I can’t let her do that because she’s five months pregnant with my kid. Do you remember her? She just finished eighth grade.


“She wants to finish school, so she says I need to drop out and take care of the baby, and she wants me to provide for both of them. But I don’t want to drop out – I’m smart and want to be someone someday. I said she needs to drop out, but she doesn’t want to. She wanted to give it up for adoption, but I told her I’d get a DNA test and stop that. I don’t want anyone else raising my kid. I have some money and no one could raise my kid better than me.


“Remember [sweet, very low kid from our class]? He’s doing really well now. His girlfriend just had her baby. It’s cute but they gave it a lot of names. Don’t tell anyone this, but last year I used to do all of his work for him. Sometimes I wouldn’t have time to do my own and the teachers would get mad at me, but I wasn’t sorry. I didn’t have to do it in your class, because you cared about him and spent a lot of extra time with him. He knew that, so he worked for you and learned a lot in there. But in other classes, he needed that extra push. He needed someone who cared, and no one cared about him, so I did. I’d do all the work on my desk, and then throw all my stuff around the room like I was in a really bad mood. Then he’d always be the nice guy and pick it up for me, and that way he could keep it. I think he’s destined for great things and I just wanted to help him along. He’s doing really well now.


“I’m going to start high school again in the fall. I missed my whole freshman year because I got expelled. I got in a fight with our English teacher because he never taught us anything. He said he would get paid whether we learned or not, and he was just in it for the money. Then he started talking to the whole class about how we were worthless and not going to amount to anything, and he wasn’t just talking to me anymore, but also [a couple of good friends] were in that class. So then I got mad, and I told him, Pieces of shit teachers like you are the reason that kids like us end up failing.’ And then I was going to swing at him, but another kid tackled me. So I got sent to the principal, and the principal told me that I was useless and I might as well just give up now. Another time, he also said that to [another boy I taught], but his mom heard about it and came and got all up in his face. I think he’s fired now. But when he said it to me, I tried to hit him. I got expelled.”


My babies. You never got sex ed, too many adults forgot to love you, all you know is violence, and we sent you on to a dropout factory. We cut off your legs and put you at the bottom of a mountain, and yet it’s just up to you to find your own way to the top.

Honey, if I knew how to make it easier, I’d do it in a second. I swear.

13 Responses

  1. Shani

    Mathinaz….that sounded sadly like stories from my students. I taught math in Houston. When you listen to our student’s stories there is a disonnect between the nonsense adults are talking about and the lives our students are living. We are debating about the bare minimum stuff (should we need to make sure students are learning) and never getting to the truly hard stuff!

  2. hill

    Wow. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. G

    This is heartbreaking…I hope things turn out well for him. He has so much promise….

  4. Cal

    Um, you might not want to believe everything he says. Unless it feeds into your narrative about cruel uncaring teachers and ruthless racist principals.

    Because it couldn’t possibly be that the kid knows exactly how to press your buttons and say what he knows will get sympathy which, at this stage in his life, is about all he can get.

    And one thing you could do to make his life easier is encourage him to go along with adoption–not that she’d go through with it, but there’s always hope.

    • mathinaz

      It’s not all political, Cal. Sometimes a story is just a story.
      I’d appreciate it if you didn’t accuse kids who you don’t even know of being liars.

  5. Cal

    I didn’t accuse him of being a liar. I encouraged you to remember how likely it is, so you can have a responsible reaction instead of a self-absorbed whiny moment.

    As for it being a “kid I don’t even know”, you’d be fine with my expressing sympathy for him, or approval for you (your real aim) even though I didn’t know him. All I know of him is what everyone else on the Internet knows, which is what you posted of him. If you didn’t want us to assess him based on your written description, then too bad. If you only want responses you agree with, then again, too bad. You put it out there, you get back what people think.

    But again, I’m not really criticizing him. It’s you that’s the problem, with your angst-ridden wallow in misery. You may or may not be able to help him, but you do need to improve your own behavior so you might be able to help others.

    • Reana

      Hey Cal. You have every right to be snarky and grinch like…doesn’t mean you need to do it. If it makes you feel better, I guess okay. I’m just not sure what your point is. You could be right about the kid pushing buttons, about adoption being a better option….but none of this is our life…so we are all just sideline observers with the luxury of passing judgment. My takeaway from this story was just that kids have complex lives and our schools need to recognize the humanity of our children.

    • Lucas

      So how likely is it, in your opinion, that he’s a liar, this young man you’ve never met, never heard speak, never cared about in the flesh and blood, never seen smile or cry? 0.001%? 1%? 50%? 99.9%? And why should we care what you think of a person you don’t know in the slightest, and wouldn’t even recognize if you passed on the street? Please, by all means, educate us. This is, after all, a blog for teachers. Of course she’d be fine with you expressing sympathy, because that’s what healthy, sane people do when they hear a poignant story of grit and determination, of love and perseverance against the odds. They express a modicum of empathy. And how is this post “self-absorbed”? It’s a transcript, more or less, of a telephone conversation, plus a couple of remarks to convey the context and the author’s deep sympathy for the plight of her former student, and perhaps righteous anger at the lack of justice she sees epitomized by his troubles. I suppose maybe it’s “whiny” if you consider a factually accurate and viscerally evocative depiction of reality to be just an excuse to “wallow in misery.” Otherwise, I have no idea what you’re talking about, or what your problem is. Yes, there are good teachers, and bad teachers, people who care, and those who don’t, the selfless and the selfish, the motivated and the lazy, the ones you’ll always remember, and the ones you can’t wait to forget. Is it really so audacious to point that out? Is it really part of a “narrative” or special agenda?

  6. AdmininAZ

    My heart aches!

  7. Gary Rubinstein

    Though I know it isn’t the greatest thing to say, I’m sure I’ve joked with a class, “I get paid the same whether you learn this stuff or not” a few times in my career. (Gotta lose that line. It isn’t even true anymore!) Depends what the relationship with the teacher is, and it seems it wasn’t that good.

    When I hear stories about a kid who did well in my class but did poorly the next year, I think that I maybe didn’t do my job all that well. I’m supposed to help them learn from other teachers too.

    As far as ‘dropout factories,’ that’s a term I’ve heard way too many times. With 40% attrition, most of the ‘high performing’ charter chains like KIPP and YES are, technically, dropout factories.

    • mathinaz

      Gary, I’ve already felt plenty of guilt for not having done enough and am perfectly aware that this story shows that. Thanks for pointing it out again, though.

      Just because charter chains might also count as dropout factories doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

      • Gary Rubinstein

        Oh, I definitely didn’t mean to make you feel guilty. All I meant was that you were blaming the ‘dropout factory’ while the teachers who had the student before you could be blaming you. I don’t think it is your fault (or the fault of the later teachers, generally) that this student is going through some tough times.

  8. MsH

    I think that it is not the best idea to just point fingers at who did what incorrectly in this child’s life. It is abundantly clear that this young man has had MANY struggles and has lacked clear guidance. I am sure that you did everything you could while he was with you. It is our job to teach students to teach from other teachers, but sometimes that lesson does not stick. It is not productive to continue to beat ourselves up about it, instead we can plan to try and help the future students.
    This story does break my heart because I know all to well how many of my students won’t graduate high school. I feel badly, though, just blaming the high school and calling it a “dropout factory.” I know that the school I work at is considered to be a really bad place to send students. I have heard the lower grade teachers say that my school “ruins” their babies. I know that this is not true. There are many other factors that come into play as a student progresses through schooling. There are PHENOMENAL teachers at my school, but we are still not able to save every child, but that doesn’t keep us from trying.
    Your story just shows that you were a very good thing in this young man’s life. Even though he has made bad choices, he knew that he had you there for him in the background. He still has hope, even though it doesn’t look good so far. Just keep being there for him and encouraging him to make the better choices. Sometimes knowing that you have someone in your corner can make a world of difference!

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