“Make sure you don’t get in trouble today!” my dad screamed before I ran out of the house.
“Dad, I know! You tell me this everyday!” I screamed back.
Every morning, my dad and I would part with those two lines of dialogue. Not even a “Goodbye” or “Have a good day in school.” That was our usual routine. Despite my assurances to the contrary, I often ended up getting in trouble: for switching classes with my identical twin brother, for throwing pens across the classroom, for flying a remote-controlled helicopter during class with a substitute teacher.
But the fun was put on hold when I almost got expelled. One night when I was in the ninth grade, my dad received a call from the head of school: “You have to come in for an expulsion hearing for Yesehak.”
“Exp… what? What is expulsion hearing?” my dad asked in his Ethiopian accent, confused. My heart dropped at that second. I hadn’t expected to be in that much trouble for skipping several Saturday detentions. (At my school, something as simple as chewing gum landed you in Saturday detention. I went to one session, during which I sat in a room for four hours doing nothing. I decided then to skip every Saturday detention I earned.) The head of school explained to my dad what an expulsion hearing was, and my dad gave me the stare of death.
The next day my dad and I met with my advisor, the dean, and the head of school for my expulsion hearing. To my surprise and relief, they gave me a second chance. But my behavior didn’t change overnight. I still earned detentions for talking back to teachers or cussing out other students.
My wake up call came during basketball season. “The starting lineup for today is: Lance, Anthony, Haben, Yohannes, and Jaylen,” said Coach. I couldn’t believe it. I was sidelined for the whole basketball game. After the game, Coach came over and talked to me about why I had not been allowed to play.
“Yesehak, you understand why you didn’t play today, right? You’ve earned five detentions this week and this is the only way I can think of to punish you,” he said. He told me that I was the only person who could change my behavior and that if I wanted to continue playing basketball, I’d have to start pulling myself together in class.
I desperately wanted to play basketball. Whenever I got angry or felt like I was about to get in trouble in class, I stepped out into the hallway, with the teacher’s permission, and tried to cool off. I caught myself each time I was about to call out in class because that was how I got in trouble most of the time. Eventually, I developed a habit for controlling my behavior. Even when basketball season was over, I continued my good behavior streak. I realized that at some point in my teenage years I wanted to shed my reputation as a disrespectful student who didn’t listen to teachers. Instead, I wanted my peers and teachers to see me as responsible, driven, and inspiring.
My dedication to focus paid off when during a school assembly this year, I received the award for Most Improved Student. When other students were getting awards for math and science I sat back in my seat in the auditorium, convinced I wouldn’t be getting any awards. When the principal called my name, I thought it was a mistake, but he called my name again. I was shocked. Now I see smiles on my coaches and teachers’ faces when they check in on my behavior and see if I’ve earned any detentions lately. I’ve come a long way from the student who flew a toy helicopter in class to the student whom teachers praise for growth and self-awareness.