by reddit user alackofcoasters
As a teacher, I get to see and hear a lot of horror stories, maybe not the kind that you are used to. Kids being abused by teachers or parents, students who get hooked on hard drugs and lose scholarships, even teenagers getting raped in the classroom. Bad things happen to good kids. It breaks my heart. All in all, it’s all pretty horrific, some of the things they warn you about in school when you’re getting your teaching credential.
But nothing could have prepared me for what happened while I was student teaching.
I student taught at a junior high in a pretty poor area, where the demographic is made up mostly of immigrants and something like 90% of the kids are on free or reduced lunch, a huge indicator of poverty in the area. It was been a pretty rewarding experience; as a music teacher, you really get to see underprivileged students light up when they get to play music. They shine here when they may have trouble in their academic classes. Kids come into the band room every day, excited to play music. It’s a teacher’s dream.
The teacher I student taught for (referred to as my master teacher), asked me to grab a couple of pizzas for some students who were coming in during lunch to help him with something. I stopped by and got 2 pepperoni and 1 cheese from Little Caesar’s, then drove to the junior high. I got out of my car and took out the pizzas.
Then, being the clumsy idiot I am, dropped one of the pizzas. Face down. Because that’s obviously the way it goes.
"God damnit," I practically yelled. It was still during class and I was in the staff parking lot, far enough that they wouldn’t have heard me, so I thought I was safe.
"God damnit," I heard coming from behind me. I turned around. There was no one there. I thought it might have been a teacher mocking me, as many tend to do (I look younger than my age, so I tend to be looked down on by other teachers), but there was no one.
It was a little odd. The voice was different from my own, so I knew it wasn’t an echo in the mostly empty parking lot, but the tone of voice, the inflections, even that weird way I say damnit, emphasizing the “n”, was all there.
I picked up the pizza and checked it. It was mostly intact with the inside top of the box only being slightly greasier. I was thankful for a moment that cheap pizza was mostly cardboard with cheese flavored plastic on top. I locked my car, beep beep.
"Beep beep." There it was again! It was a nearly perfect imitation of my car’s locking sound. I spun around, and I saw him.
It was a little boy. He was Hispanic, like most of the kids in the school, but was oddly pale. His mouth was softly shaped and loose and his lip kept trembling like he was going to cry. His small chin wobbled and his hands shook. His hair was dark and matted, like it hadn’t been washed in a few days. The uniform shirt all the kids had to wear was too big on him and had a long slash of ketchup across the front.
I stared at him, unsure of what to do. I locked my car again. Beep beep.
"Beep beep," he replied. It was incredible, how similar he sounded to my car.
"What’s your name?" I said, coming closer. He stood perfectly still, staring at me. He looked very thin. I knew that some of the kids in the school weren’t getting three square meals a day. My heart broke a little looking at him. I opened up the box of pizza. "Do you want a slice?"
He stared at it, then he very carefully took the smallest slice and held it in his hands before looking back up at me. “What’s your slice want?” His speech was disjointed. “Do your name want a slice?” He was struggling, like the words didn’t fit in his mouth.
"Go ahead and eat, little dude," I said with a smile. I try my best to be as colloquial with students as possible. I prefer to stay on the same level as them instead of putting myself on the "teacher pedestal". "Yummy?"
He took a bite and chewed slowly. He nodded. “Little dude yummy.”
I had a theory. “Do re mi fa sol,” I sang.
He swallowed. “Do re mi fa sol,” he repeated.
"Do mi re fa mi sol."
"Do mi re fa mi sol."
"Do ti do re."
"Do ti do re."
"Good!" I exclaimed, smiling. He smiled back, pizza sauce on the corner of his mouth. He wiped it with the back of his hand. It looked scarred.
"Good! Do ti do sol do." he repeated.
"Esteban!" I saw a teacher running across the parking lot to us. I recognized him. He was the special education teacher. The little boy, Esteban, suddenly looked very ashamed. He spit the pizza in his mouth out and shoved the rest of the pizza in his pocket. It wouldn’t fit. He let out a tiny, high-pitched whine of frustration before just dropping it on the ground. "Esteban, there you are!" The teacher looked at me suspiciously. "Who are you?"
"I’m a student teacher for band, thanks very much," I snapped. I was sick of everyone thinking I was a student, or worse, some random young person who wandered onto campus to cause trouble. I was wearing pumps for god’s sakes, treat me with some respect.
"Oh," he said, a little embarrassed. He put his hand on Esteban’s shoulder. "Esteban, I was so worried about you. You weren’t in class."
Esteban dropped the pitch of his voice. “I weren’t in class.” He was matching the tone and style of the teacher’s voice. “Worried.”
"Good, okay. Go back to class, Esteban." Esteban started walking back.
"Esteban, wait!" I opened up the box and handed him another slice of pizza. "Here. Eat up, okay, dude? Want you to become big and strong, mkay?"
Esteban took the pizza and looked up at me with the strangest look. Like sadness, mixed with gratitude that he couldn’t express. “Eat strong. Mkay?” He walked away, eating the pizza slice slowly and reverently.
I spoke with the special ed teacher while we walked to the band room. As an apology, he was holding the pizza boxes. “I’m sorry for being rude earlier,” he explained. “I can never be too careful when it comes to Esteban. I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. He’s such a great kid.”
"He has great ears," I said. I explained to him how I sang solfege to him (do re mi fa sol, for those who don’t know. It’s a pretty standard way of teaching music to kids) and how he was able to repeat it perfectly. "I think that, even if he’s in special ed, he has a great shot of being really successful in band or choir."
The teacher shook his head sadly. “I don’t think so. I keep him pretty secluded from other kids because of what he does. If you asked him to sing solfege again, then he wouldn’t be able to do it. He can only take the last couple of phrases someone says to him and he can repeat exactly what they said, like a perfect imitation. It’s incredible, but it also really hinders his learning. He can only speak from the pool of words given to him in the last few phrases you said. Also…” He sighed. “Last year, a PE student teacher, from your university actually, was messing with him. Saying things like, ‘Gonna fuck your mother’ and ‘gonna kill you’ and fucked up things like that. And the only way Esteban could communicate was using those words, so he ran up to me crying saying ‘you gonna kill my mother?’ I beat the shit out that ankle-grabbing asshole before reporting him to the university and getting him kicked out of the credential program.”
"That’s fucking terrible," I gasped, not at the student teacher getting his ass kicked (piece of crap deserved it), but about Esteban. I would have cried if no one else was around. "That poor kid."
"Yeah. I only want what’s best for Esteban. And I’d like to hope that we all do." He dropped off the pizzas and I thanked him. "No need. Thanks for being nice to Esteban. And just be nice to him every time you see him. He’s a good kid."
I went to bed that night in tears. He was so sweet, with the limited words he could say. I thought to myself that I would start working with Esteban in my free time, if I wasn’t in the band room. Maybe I could bring some music into his life.
The next day, I arrived at the school, ready to face the day, when I saw Esteban running towards me. “Esteban, hi!” I said before he got close enough for me to really see him.
He was drenched in blood.
He was covered completely from head to toe in blood, splashes of red right across his face, sprayed on his shirt over the same ketchup stain from yesterday. There was a bruise on his cheek and he was motioning wildly at me, making that same high-pitched whine from yesterday when he couldn’t find words he wanted to say.
I knelt in front of him, grabbing his bloody arms. “Esteban! Esteban! What happened to you? What happened?”
He opened his mouth, his softly shaped and wobbly mouth, capable of making incredible sounds, and he screamed.
"Esteban!" I shouted, trying to console him. I was terrified. Teachers were opening the doors to see what was happening, children’s faces peering through the windows. Security started running towards us. I saw the special ed teacher. But the only thing I could focus on was Esteban and what he was screaming.
"WHORE!" he screamed in a low voice. He thrashed around, terror in his eyes. "YOU FUCKING WHORE YOU FUCKING WHORE I’M GONNA KILL YOU I’M GONNA KILL YOU YOU FUCKING WHORE!" He took a series of shallow breaths, then his voice changed to something higher and more horrified. "NO, PLEASE, DON’T, OH MY GOD, SOMEONE, SOMEBODY SAVE—PLEASE—AHHH—NO—PLEASE!"
I shook him firmly, trying to get him back. Tears ran down his cheeks, cutting through the tacky blood. “Esteban!”
"ESTEBAN!" he shrieked. "ESTEBAN." It was the last word he heard. He kept screaming, the word on repeat in his mouth, trapped in his own name. "ESTEBAN, ESTEBAN, ESTEBAN, ESTEBAN!"
The special ed teacher reached us and he gathered Esteban up in his arms and ran for the office. I stayed kneeling on the pavement, pebbles digging into my knees, my hands covered in blood.
My master teacher eventually helped me up and took me to the band room to get some water. An ambulance and firetruck came by to help Esteban and everyone kept asking me if I was okay. I nodded but didn’t say much. I was shaken, but it wasn’t like this was going to stop me from teaching. Besides, I was more worried about Esteban and what had happened. I had a sinking feeling that he already told me.
I heard within a couple of hours that the police went by Esteban’s house and found his mother murdered. She was in Esteban’s room when it happened. There was evidence of child abuse both in the house and on Esteban when he was taken to the hospital. He was severely malnourished and was scarred from years of beatings.
I suspected that maybe it was Esteban’s father who found out about the abuse and came back (I read in the file that she was a single mom), and saw that he was being abused and lost his mind. Seeing someone you love being tortured like that, it can make you do crazy things. But it turned out that his father was in prison the whole time.
I went to the hospital to visit Esteban, who was being kept overnight, mostly because he had nowhere else to go. The sweet kid had nurses doting on him and bringing him sweets and teddy bears from the gift shop, and the special ed teacher was there too. He was smoothing down Esteban’s hair while the sleepy kid played gameboy.
Esteban lit up when he saw me. Out of his mouth came a curious noise, probably him imitating the sounds coming from the gameboy. “Hi, Esteban.”
I went outside with the special ed teacher and gave him a huge hug. “Thank you for being there for Esteban,” I said. “I know you always are, and I wish I was there with him all the way, but it’s better that you were there.” I looked at him through the window. “That kid seems to really love you.”
He nodded. “I love him too. I’m thinking of adopting him.” I couldn’t help but tear up. What a truly amazing teacher.
He kept looking at Esteban through the window, and Esteban kept snatching looks away from the gameboy to look at us. He looked like he had something to tell me.
The special ed teacher went to the restroom, so I sat down with Esteban. “I’m very glad you’re safe, Esteban. I’m sorry about your mother.”
Esteban scrunched up his face like he was thinking very hard. “Glad. Very glad, mother.”
I looked at him, confused. “Esteban?”
"Esteban safe." He scowled. "You’re sorry I’m mother."
"Um. What happened?" That wouldn’t be enough words to work with. It seemed like he really knew what he wanted to say, he just didn’t have the vocabulary for it. "Um. Esteban, I am very sorry about what happened to you, your mother did bad things to you, I’m glad that you are safe, um, Mr. Marks is very nice and he’s very good for taking care of you." That seemed like enough words.
He nodded. “Mr. Marks is very nice. Mr. Marks is very good. Mr. Marks very good taking care of bad mother, very bad things, I’m safe. Mr. Marks did bad things to bad mother, very nice.” He seemed happy that he had so many words to use, but my heart dropped to my stomach as I began to understand. “Mr. Marks happened to mother.” He laid back into the pillows. “Safe.”
"He’s safe." The special ed teacher was standing in the doorway with some soup for Esteban. He put it on the tray for the boy to eat, then sat next to me. I sat perfectly still, petrified. "I said it before, and I’ll say it again." I looked at him. "I only want what’s best for Esteban."
I swallowed. “I’m not gonna call the cops.”
He nodded. “I know. Good teachers usually know when to blow the whistle, and when not to.” He put a hand on my shoulder, which was both reassuring and unnerving in some strange way. I looked at him. “I don’t regret it.” There was fire in his eyes. He believed his every word. “I did the right thing for Esteban.”
"Okay," I whispered. I stood up to leave.
Esteban called after me. “Right thing for I,” he said in a strong voice. A voice that wasn’t like Mr. Marks’, or like mine. It was quiet and soft, but still strong. It was his own voice. “Right thing for I,” he repeated.
"Good night, Esteban."
I shut the door behind me but looked through the window. I was reminded of my earlier days when I used to go to church. My pastor would talk a lot about the angels, and I wondered about guardian angels, archangels, the powerful beings that watch over us and keep us safe. I looked at the teacher and his student in the hospital room and saw a guardian angel and his ward.
But what they didn’t tell us in church is that angels are not fluffy-winged cherubs flying around singing Disney songs. They are vengeful. They are wrathful. They are strong. And they will fight bloody wars for their cause.
Years later, now that I teach, I sometimes get another horror story. I call parents and I chew them out. I’m thought of as disrespectful and harsh, but as long as kids come to me with those haunted, hungry looks in their eyes and scars that don’t belong on them, I will keep fighting. I’ve called cops and threw out angry parents, I’ve had kids sleep over at my house when they had no where else to go. I’ve paid out of pocket to help kids go to college to escape the horror of their homes and witness something greater than the shit life they were dealt. I’ve told every single student I’ve ever had that I loved them, very very much, and it’s true. Every last one of them.
Because we’re teachers. And we’re guardians. And we have no trouble fighting for the kids we love.