Firsthand: Left Out, Not Behind

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MY FAMILY MOVED to Puerto Rico, but we were back in the Bronx a week later. Because I came late to CIS 166, they put me in a messed-up class–the only one with space. The teacher left after a few months for a better paying job in Maryland. We didn’t have a teacher for the next three weeks.

Nobody wanted to teach us ’cause the kids were bad. [My classmates] wanted to be all thuggish and act cool. They’d put on headphones, they’d curse out the teacher, throw things around. Finally we got a teacher, but one day some kids stole $52. She was ready to quit. Our dean said if she quits and we have one more week without a teacher, we automatically fail.

I was nice to the teacher. I would encourage her, saying, “Don’t quit ’cause we want to pass and I’m sure you need a job to keep your house.” Some kids thought I was kissing up. They called me teacher’s pet. I’m like, “I’m being a teacher’s pet so y’all could get a chance to pass.”

They all failed and had to go to summer school anyway. I was the only one who passed…. I got 3s on the math and reading exams. [Four is the highest grade; 2s and 1s are failing.] The rest of my class got 1s. When the teacher said I was the only passing student, the class looked at me with red eyes, like they were going to tear me apart. When class ended, I zoomed home. Three kids chased me, shouting vulgar things, yelling, “You think you smart. You mad stupid.”

My classmates were in a hot classroom this summer, I’m pretty sure cursing me out in their heads. I’ve been working with the PAL [Police Athletic League] Maritime Adventure Program, building boats, rowing, teaching 6- and 7-year-olds to tie sailing knots and about water-dwelling animals. At the end of the summer we’ll hike up to Albany and row back to Manhattan, camping along the way.

I could have tried harder all year to make straight As, but I got caught up with trying to be cool and stuff. I’m glad I didn’t do much better–I’m sure the kids in my class would have killed me. –Peter Millan, as told to Amy Zimmer