Her voice echoed through the room as she said, “Excuse me? Could you remove your hat, please?” He tried to look up at her, wincing at the sharp pain in his neck.
She had an irritated look on her face as she repeated, “Take it off.” She quickly weaved her way through the other students to get to him. He had to get away, he couldn’t let anyone see what he was hiding.
Terry’s life had always been a good one. He had everything a high school senior could ever want, excellent grades, a small circle of trustworthy friends, and just the perfect amount of popularity to make the school’s elite acknowledge him.
This was peak teenage and high school life for a seventeen-year-old like Terry. He didn’t know that everything was about to turn sour.
Terry’s life changed when his family got him a car for his seventh birthday. He’d always wanted to have his own set of wheels, and now that the dream was a reality, he couldn’t be happier.
But what was supposed to bring him the joy he’d dreamt of since joining high school would seemingly put his life in danger.
That fateful day started as many of the others did for Terry. He got up, showered, had breakfast with his family, and hurried to school.
The drive to school was usually a short fifteen minutes behind the wheel, but today, traffic was thick around the town. Terry tried his best to maneuver through the hundreds of cars. He was almost halfway down his route when it happened.
Terry had stopped at a red light, waiting for it to go green. He’d been on the road for almost an hour now. He didn’t want to be late for school again.
The light blinked green, and Terry pressed his foot on the gas. His car glided forward, but another vehicle flew in with speed, digging into his side.
Terry couldn’t explain what had happened. One minute he was gripping his steering wheel with impatience, and the next, his car was screeching to the side.
A crippling pain flared throughout his body where he sat, his seatbelt firm across his chest. Although red liquid and black splotches covered his sight, he could see his car was reduced into mangled pieces of metal. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
The other vehicle had toppled to the side of the road. Had its driver met a worse fate than Terry?
Terry struggled with his seatbelt until it came off. He fought through layers of reddened, deflated airbags to his door handle and pushed it open. The metal grated, and he helplessly fell out of the car. He crawled to the vehicle to help whoever was inside, but something happened.
The dark spots over Terry’s sight were growing, blackening his view. His energy was also waning. He tried the best he could to pull himself across the cold tarmac but fell limp on the road.
The chaotic sounds around Terry died off, and he woke up under a bright light. “You’re fine,” a soft voice said over him as a cold hand pried open his eyes and flashed a bright torch at them. What was happening?
“You were in an accident,” Terry’s parents explained as soon as the doctor left. “But you are doing well,” his mom added. Her eyes were puffy, and she squeezed a damp handkerchief in her palm. “We were so worried.”
The days after that blurred quicker than Terry could count them. Apart from losing a patch of hair due to stitches at the back of his head, he felt strong enough to go back to school. But this would spiral into another massive problem.
Two weeks after Terry’s accident, he insisted on returning to school, and his parents allowed it. He walked into the class with a hat over his head and a walking cane in his hand.
Everybody stared at him. He was the boy who, despite his injuries, fought through the pain to see if other people were injured in the accident. Then the teacher walked into the class.
The teacher’s eyes burned with malice as she commanded Terry to take off his hat. “I was in a car accident,” he said. “Take the hat off. You cannot wear that in my class,” she insisted.
Terry couldn’t say whether the teacher felt he was being rude or if she was uncaring about his condition. What he did next made the teacher rush to him.
Terry slipped the hat from his head. The entire class gasped. He looked around, his eyes landing on the teacher.
She took a step back, then moved to speak before stopping herself. Terry could see her eyes glint all over his scar. He felt uncomfortable standing before the class like this. Did he make a mistake coming to school while still healing?
“You can put your hat back on,” said the teacher. “But I can’t wear hats in class,” Terry replied. “I mean, I can do it, but not if I’m breaking the rules.”
He’d thought about storming out of class but then saw it fit to lighten the mood. The class giggled as he continued to speak, which made his confidence spring back up.
Terry had read about a concept known as malicious compliance, obeying the rules even if they harmed people around him. The scar on his head was still healing, and Terry suspected it was still gory in the other students’ eyes.
Would he obey his teacher’s rule of not having a hat in class and make his fellow students uncomfortable, or would he break the rule for their benefit?
“Please put your hat on,” the teacher said. “Okay. If you insist,” Terry said, sliding the hat back with a grin. The teacher apologized for making him take off his hat.
Terry remembered his family describing his wound as a battle scar to mark what he’d endured on the road alone. He’d proudly carry that scar throughout his life.
But Terry’s story isn’t the only one of its kind. Aapo was only seven when his family made the move from Central America to a small town in Indiana.
An energetic soul through and through, he loved everything that came with the move. The American culture took him by storm, but Aapo did everything to acclimate. He had no clue what the future held for him.
Aapo’s parents had always been traditional folk. They loved their Mayan heritage, doing their best to impart everything they knew to their lovely kids.
As such, Aapo and his sister Izel grew up knowing their roots. They enjoyed everything their parents taught them. But such a harmless thing would threaten to ruin Aapo’s education career.
Aapo and Izel’s parents enrolled them in the local middle school as soon as they settled in their town. The kids were beside themselves with joy when it happened.
They had spent most of their lives watching and reading about the American educational system and couldn’t wait to be a part of it. They had no clue what they had signed up for.
Aapo and his sister began school as the new semester came, and for the most part, everything was as great as they expected. The classes were fun, and the other students warm and welcoming.
But it wouldn’t be long until everything came crashing down on Aapo. But unlike Terry, he wouldn’t have a way to defend himself.
Aapo’s issue began when a new substitute teacher took over his science class. He had been having the time of his life for the past seven months that he’d been at the school.
He had great friends he enjoyed hanging out with and excellent grades to ensure he’d continue to high school. But one look at that substitute teacher, and he knew something was about to go terribly wrong.
The teacher was a thirty-seven-year-old master’s holder from one of the universities in town. She had spent five years teaching biology after college before returning to pursue higher education.
Now that she was furthering her education, she needed a substitute teacher job to help her with day-to-day bills. Her choices would land her in deep trouble.
The day the incident took place started like any other for Aapo. After a filling breakfast with his family, he and Izel took the bus to school.
Everything was going great for Aapo until he entered biology class. The substitute teacher locked eyes with him before running her gaze up and down. Trouble was here.
For the longest while, Aapo had gone without shaving his head, as is demanded in his culture. He enjoyed the look and loved that he was honoring his heritage as his ancestors would have wanted.
But as he looked at the teacher, her gaze stuck on his silky mane, he knew nothing good would come from this day.
“Isn’t that hair too long, young man?” the substitute teacher called, her lips curling into a disgusting smile. “Come here,” she commanded, and Aapo stood and hurried to her.
She looked at his hair, seemingly surprised that it rode down his back. “Do you know the school policy about hair length?” she asked and fished a pair of scissors from her handbag.
“I have,” Aapo answered in a shaky voice. He stated that his parents had talked to the principal and teaching body, explaining that Aapo and Izel’s hairs were long because of their culture.
He knew the teacher would understand, the others did, and they even commended him for openly celebrating who he was. He was wrong.
The teacher fisted Aapo’s hair, her smile turning into a leer as she studied it. “Such a shame,” she said and, without warning, let her scissors talk.
Aapo stood in shock as the locks of his hair dropped to the floor. He’d never seen his hair cut like this since his birth, and he couldn’t believe what was happening.
The teacher cut Aapo’s hair in the worst way possible. She left him in tears as he ran out of class, grinning at the chaos she’d created.
Aapo ran straight to the principal’s office, unsure what to do. He didn’t even talk. One look from the principal, and he knew he was in the right hands.
The principal called Aapo’s mom, who wasted no time coming to school. She was upset when she found her little boy in tears, with his head shaven.
She had to rein in her fury as the principal asked her to take a seat. How could she sit down when his school had done such a terrible deed to her baby?
Aapo’s mom asked all the right questions, and it wasn’t long before the substitute teacher found herself in the principal’s office. She thought she would leave with a warning, but the principal had other plans.
He informed the teacher about Aapo’s hair and how sacred it was to him and his heritage. He hoped the teacher would be remorseful to ease the room’s tension. She wasn’t.
The teacher didn’t show any remorse for her actions. She insisted that Aapo’s hair was going against school rules but kept quiet when the principal told her Aapo had a pass because of his culture.
The teacher lost her position, with her license to teach being revoked. According to the principal, schools are meant to nurture every kid despite their cultural background. He assured Aapo’s mom that what happened to her son would never happen again.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.