Bad Kids

Teachers like me often say, “There are no bad kids.”

And, boy! Are we ever wrong when we say something as dumb as that.

To be fair, when teachers like me say something like that, a clueless liberal-minded comment that reveals fatal levels of idealism, morality, and even faith in God, we are really saying that there is way to reach every kid and make the difference for them… if only we are given the tools, the time, and a decent amount of incentive. To go in front of a hostile audience five, six, or seven times a day, up to thirty of them in a classroom made for twenty, and teach them something worth learning requires an unquestioning belief in miracles, and a foolish notion that somehow goodness and light always win out. And often they do. But exceptions prove the rule… And the need for rules. Because there are some very bad kids in this world.

The first hour of the first day of my very first year as a gringo teacher in a mostly Spanish-speaking junior high school in deep South Texas contained two eighth grade boys who would die violently from gunshots.

Osvaldo “Ocho” Sotello put a gun in his own mouth and pulled the trigger after finally getting released from prison after serving five years of a sentence for armed robbery. He was guilty of that crime and many others he was never caught doing. But he was put in prison at eighteen, and repeatedly raped by other members of the Mexican Mafia because he had given himself teardrop tattoos by his right eye and had never killed anyone to earn that gang sign.

And Lorenzo “El Loco Talan” Marquez would die in a hail of bullets from the guns of rival drug dealers on the streets of Encinal, Texas. His family watched in horror as it happened. Neither of the names I gave those boys in this essay are their real names. But the gang names are real. And their life outcomes are real. And I even had to teach the son of El Talan when he reached eighth grade.

Both of those boys are proof of the idea that there really are bad kids out there. Evil kids even. But those two boys were both sixteen in the eighth grade because they failed seventh grade twice and had been “placed” in the eighth grade especially to welcome me into the jolly world of classroom management and discipline. Those were tough kids. They refused to do anything I asked of them.

They were disrespectful to me in both Spanish and English. And I am grateful for their tutoring of me in a wide range of profanity and swear words in Spanish. At one point, walking them back to class from another campus after lunch, El Talan picked up a metal fence post and was going to use it on me like a club because I tried to hurry them up and interfered with their plans to ditch afternoon classes.

Some kids are bad kids because they have been mishandled, mistreated, and misunderstood by all of their parents, relative, teachers, coaches, and classmates before you even meet them for the first time. Their paths are already set in stone. Fossilized footprints made rock-hard-certain a million years before they should’ve been set in stone. I had no chance to make any improvements on them.

Another bad kid I had my very first year of teaching was not really named Alonzo Angel Diablo (but certainly should’ve been named that.)

Alonzo was the older cousin of a kid in that class, Fernando, that I really liked and tried hard to help through two years in the eighth grade. But Alonzo was definitely too old and set in his criminal ways to be reached. Alonzo’s problem was that he was a gay young man living in a Catholic/Hispanic culture that actively persecuted gays. His own family had disowned him and treated him like a criminal. So, he was one. I had to get him expelled from school by reporting him for threatening the life of another student. Prior to that incident the boy had harassed me at the Halloween Carnival (a fund-raising event that the Baptist Church later made us rename the Harvest Festival.) He forced Fernando to sexually proposition me, and when I rebuffed that nonsense, he offered to do it himself. It would lead to a later discussion in which he revealed to me his sexual orientation and asked me for forgiveness. He was relentlessly bad. But he later contacted me as an adult and thanked me for being his teacher. I never taught him anything, but it was important to him to show me that he had a job and had achieved adulthood without further violence or jail time. If he’s still making his way in this world more honestly than he did before, I am happy for him. But It was all his own doing. I could do nothing for him as a teacher.

There very definitely are bad kids. But they are not all irredeemable. And I know conservatives and Old School types would prefer that we just threw all of them in jail to rot forever. I, however, like to think there is still room in this world for stupid liberal notions of making kids less bad through education, patience, and the Grace of God.


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6 responses to “Bad Kids

  1. Mickey, my mother, the most patient and Christian of people, taught second grade. One year, she had two of these boys whom I will call the two E’s as their names started with that letter. It got so bad, she put their desks on either side of hers. We heard about the E’s a lot that year. Keith

    • May God bless your mother and her efforts. I learned the hard way how to handle bad kids. The teacher training schools have no idea how to prepare you for it. It takes a saint with the skills of a psychologist to navigate any classroom, especially the little-bitty grades. You learn it all with patience, love, and practice… and practice, and practice, and practice…

  2. That’s not a saying I ever heard often. Where I grew up kids could not only be bad they could be incorrigible. Their soul was defective and only God could save them. (Which he never seemed to do.) Never got quite to that point myself but I was declared by teachers to be worthless which IMHO was worse.

    At least a bad boy could still have friends (other bad boys) and even a (bad) girlfriend. A bad girlfriend (!!!) sounded especially exciting. A worthless boy got nothing. Picked on at school, never went on dates, never got chosen for sports teams, and was laughed at when he tried.

    A bad boy could even be President. Or dictator of a small south American country. Or become a movie star and die young in a Porsche on his way to a race. How romantic!

    First time I ever heard the idea was an old movie for Boys Town. I wanted to go there – but they didn’t say anything about a boy not being worthless. So maybe it was good I didn’t.

    • I was always accused of believing there were no bad kids, but I think they said that mostly to justify putting all the truly evil ones in my classes. Principals notice if you have success with one or two bad kids and turn them to the light side of the Force. But when they notice, they give you twelve extra bad ones the next year.

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