“Bad” is an awful and vague term. I’ve honestly never thought you were “bad.” Lazy maybe, sure, or unmotivated, burnt out, or exhausted because your Dad drinks too much so you can’t get home until he’s asleep. Yeah, I knew about that. You probably assumed I didn’t because I always treated you like everyone else, but I always know about you.
I know about the girls who wear make-up and date because they think their only option after school is to get married. You gave up on school a long time ago when the teachers gave up on you. I know about the boys who punch other boys because that’s all they’ve known at home. All the anger and frustration of knowing you’re fighting everything on your own. I know that your stained uniform is never gonna get fixed or replaced because it’s the only one you could afford. I know about you, and I see you.
I also know about the ones who can’t even afford Daiso notebooks and pens, so you’re constantly “borrowing” my pens and notebooks. It’s fine, I know you’re never giving them back, I would rather you keep and have them. Don’t feel bad about it. If you need those to get through school, by all means, take what you need from me.
See, now you’re not a thief, because I gave all those to you. I know you didn’t or couldn’t ask because you were scared to do it in the class in front of all your friends. That’s ok kids, I get it. School can be hell and your friends will do anything for a laugh. Like I said, take what you need.
I remember the girls I’ve found crying. I’m sorry I caught you when you were sobbing because you were failing classes, not because you weren’t trying, but instead because you obviously had a learning disability that no one could be bothered to help you with. I’m also sorry it was my first year teaching and I didn’t know how to help you. You weren’t stupid and you weren’t an idiot. Don’t call yourself one, love yourself for doing the best you can.
I remember the boys I found crying. I’m sorry that your homeroom teacher is an asshole and never gives you a break. Yes, you get into trouble, but treating every single situation like you’re the worst kid he’s ever met wasn’t the way to go about changing your behavior. I’m glad you let me hug you, even if I couldn’t explain at the time that middle school isn’t the rest of your life. I hope you’re okay in a university somewhere now. Don’t let that one bullying jerk dictate who you are.
I remember the girl who yelled at Miss K.N. in English class and made her cry. Don’t think I didn’t notice that you had a tear stained face later in the day too, and don’t think I didn’t know it’s because Dad left and Mom just didn’t want to deal with your emotions. Remember when I told you I’m a kid of divorce too? Remember me trying to tell you that adults are just people, none of them are perfect? It’s ok if you don’t.
I also wanted to say that I understood you didn’t trust adults anymore. It’s shocking to realize when you’re so young that the people you trust the most can betray and hurt you like that. I’m glad by the end of the year you and Miss K.N. were on better terms, and I’m glad you tried to talk to me in English more. Don’t be afraid to trust people.
I remember the boy who I kept after school nearly every day last year. I remember lecturing and lecturing you, keeping you there for a good hour once to prove a point, and the whole time you kept calling yourself stupid. And I kept telling you no you weren’t, you were the victim of a Japanese system that never required you to put what you know into practice. So we practiced, and practiced, and practiced, until you got that damn 95 on your final. Kid, I can’t tell you how proud I was. You weren’t stupid, and I knew it. Don’t call yourself dumb.
And to the boy who I ripped into in the middle of class last year, I had to yell at you then. I had to force you into the main office. You don’t know this yet, but you can’t be that guy. You have no bad home life, you come from a place of privilege and prestige. Your background is just an endless list of tournament wins and schools looking the other way when you act like a jerk. I had to shut that down, because in middle school it might’ve been cute, but in a university it would get you kicked out. You were spoiled, you still kind of are, so I had to be that bad guy because no one else had ever bothered to tell you that the real world doesn’t like entitled jerks. I’m glad you shaped up, and I’m glad you’re being a good senpai to the first years.
For some of you I was an ALT, the weird foreign teacher, emphasis on the foreign. I could hear you sometimes calling me names in Japanese. I didn’t get mad at you because I didn’t understand, I know what メス犬 means and I know that you’ll call me 外人 instead of 外国人 on purpose with a smile, I know that you think you’re being edgy. The fact is though your racism isn’t your own at this point, it’s just you parroting what you’re hearing at home. You look at me see a person who is just too different to comprehend, and you’re just calling me names because you don’t know how to handle this difference. I didn’t want to yell at you and be an angry person at the time because didn’t want to reinforce the stereotypes of us being the angry foreigners with you.
Besides, I tattled to your homeroom teachers every time you did it, so if you assumed all this time it was someone else in your class. Nope, it was probably me. So that after school extra cleaning you got? Present from me. I hope you enjoyed it. It’s been several years since then, I hope you’ve come to realize foreigners are human on the same level as you, that we’re all just basically the same species trying to find meaning in our lives somehow. I hope you’re not in one of those black vans blaring “GAJIN GO HOME!” slogans, but instead taking your American co-worker out to lunch.
You see kids, to me I never had any “bad” students. There was always a reason for you acting out, and believe me I wanted to do more for you. But then again, how arrogant is it of me to think I could’ve solved every single one of your problems? How utterly white saviour of me to think that I should even think I knew better than your other teachers? I’ll never really know, but I do know this much: You are not bad students, you are not bad kids.
You’re utterly normal.