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Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofIvan Zou

I always felt isolated and left out in elementary school because my classmates thought of me as problematic and unpleasant to talk to. I was almost always lonely with no one that I considered a real friend. At last, I was able to make some friends the summer after 2nd grade. 

Returning to school from the summer, I felt relieved that I had some friends to talk to. I sat in my assigned seat and waited for everyone to settle down. Then, a student came into the classroom with an assistant teacher following shortly behind him. He had an angry expression on his face and his fist clenched as he walked rapidly towards his seat which had been placed towards the far side of the room. I watched as he pushed his chair angrily and sat down, crossing his arms. I watched as the students who were assigned to sit next to him reluctantly take their seats and turn away as if he didn’t exist. 

I noticed that he complained a lot about things that didn’t really matter. He occasionally complained about the temperature of the room or the arm space he was given at his desk. The assistant teacher was always there to calm him down and escort him to different rooms when he needed a break from class. Sometimes, I could hear him muttering about how hard the worksheet problems were or how loud it was in the classroom, always with the assistant teacher there to calm him. I felt like he was annoying and I tried to ignore him to the best of my abilities. 

One particular morning, I saw that this classmate was not followed by the assistant teacher. I wondered to myself whether anyone was going to calm him if he was suddenly triggered in the middle of class. That day, we had a test and I was told to sit next to him to do my work. At first, he wasn’t much of a disturbance besides the occasional grunting and loud puffing of his breath. This, however, progressed to aggressive pencil slamming and the pushing of the cardboard barrier that prevented us from looking at each other’s work. He then looked past the cardboard barrier and asked me for the answers. I refused to give any to him.

I felt him kick the leg of the desk and push his desk fiercely. One of the teachers in the room immediately came to stop him from any further disruption. However, the teacher was not fast enough to stop my now angry classmate from throwing the cardboard barrier onto the floor and letting out a piercing scream. 

When this happened, my teacher got a hold of his arm and slowly led him out of the classroom. The teacher walked slowly and calmly next to him, while he loudly stomped. I was in shock the whole time as I had never seen this type of reaction. I understood why the other students disliked him and I began to develop a sense of hatred towards him as well. I wanted to be nothing like him and wanted nothing to do with him. 

Several days later, during lunchtime, I could see this particular classmate approach me, followed by the assistant teacher. I pretended not to notice him and continued to eat while talking with my friends. 

He sat across from me and turned to the assistant teacher behind him. She nodded to him and he then turned back to me. He apologized about the other day and told me that he didn’t mean to overreact. My classmate then told me about his anger issue disorder and once triggered beyond a certain point, it is difficult for him to stop overreacting. He apologized once more about not being able to keep it under control and being aggressive.

He then quietly got up and walked to the lunch table closest to the corner of the cafeteria. He sat there, with his back faced towards the rest of the cafeteria. At that moment, I saw we were similar. The lonely and neglected boy I was now appeared in the figure of this classmate. We were no different from each other, but everyone feared him before giving him a chance because of his outbursts. 

The next few days, I sat with him during lunch and talked with him. We talked about anything we could think of from video games to favorite movies. While he talked, we never ran into any conflict. He never became angry and he seemed to have a lot to say. It turns out that we had plenty of common hobbies and interests. 

From this point on, we would talk almost daily and we grew to enjoy each other’s company. From this experience with him, we both learned the importance of patience and the impact it plays when giving someone the chance to express themselves. 

© Ivan Zou. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.