I would like to preface this post by saying, I was a total a**hole in high school. It was 2006, the height of all things emo. I had short hair, dyed my hair black and listened to ridiculous emo music. Keep that in mind when reading the rest of this post.
As the school year in the Northern Hemisphere comes to an end, I can’t help but think back of my time in school. I look at my girls and hope that they have better luck than I did when it came to dealing with low self esteem, mean teachers, and bullies.
I was bullied pretty badly in elementary and middle school, so much so that I made it a point to apply to a magnet school where I would know NO ONE and be able to start fresh. Little did I know that I would never really fit in there. People tried to get to know me but I lived an hour away from most of my classmates and couldn’t form any solid relationships outside of regular school hours. Mix that with teenage hormones and repressed anger, you’ve got yourself a staring down the barrel of depression and anxiety.
Sophomore year was when my parents decided it was time I start seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist. I tried Zoloft, Prozac, and Adderall. It was also the year I started hanging out with friends who drank, smoked, and dabbled with illicit drugs.
Junior year I was desperate. I was fat, lonely, and at the time, thought I was going to die a virgin because I didn’t have a boyfriend. I was so starved for attention from boys that I was trying to get it any way I could. And so I started talking to Toby*. Toby and I were friends who had known each other since freshman year. He was one of the popular kids at school. Always involved in extra curricular activities and on the school broadcasting channel.
We used to take the bus and train home from school together. One afternoon, during our commute home, we somehow kissed. I don’t remember the details other than he and I started writing notes to each other afterwards. At a certain point I realized that I didn’t actually have feelings for him and couldn’t lead him on. Being the teenage idiot that I was, decided that the best way to express that to him was to write it in a note and deposit the note in his locker.
In my note I wrote about my smoking and depression and probably a bunch of other stuff that was way too personal to put on paper but didn’t have the foresight to know better. I walked into my AP Composition class and see the note I wrote to him stapled onto the class bulletin board. Needless to say, I was stunned. And while my teacher, Ms. Ruiz, didn’t say anything directly to me, she made sarcastic offhand remarks alluding to the letter. And that’s when the floodgates opened to my being bullied again in my new school.
My classmates took her lead and started laughing about it openly. I was mortified. I felt betrayed. I felt worthless. I found myself dreading school and longing for the days when all kids teased me about was my weight or purple hair. It got so bad that I had to switch schools midway through the year.
Now I see that event as blessing in my life. I was able to reconnect with my best friend. I was able to pull my grades high enough to go to college and get a scholarship. I was able to have a true high school experience filled with clubs, dances, band, and football games.
But that experience led me to be wary of teachers. I never allowed myself to open up in class again. It makes me wary of those who teach my daughters. I’ll forever be cautious of those in positions of power because this one woman, who is still an educator, decided to belittle me instead of pulling me aside and asking if I was okay. Instead of offering help, sending me to the counselors office, or even calling my parents, because what 16 year old should be smoking or drinking, she used my weaknesses against me to make me feel minute.
If you’re a teacher reading this, especially a high school teacher, know that your indifference to your students emotional wellbeing causes as much harm as the hurtful things their peers say or do to them. It is your job as an educator to uplift and encourage your students. If you can’t do that then at the very least don’t be another stumbling block in the already bumpy road that is adolescence.
*Name changed to protect myself from drama.