Monday, August 17, 2015

The horror, the horror! No, really!

For my next horrifying story about teachers who think it’s good to be friends with their students or who don’t draw appropriate boundaries, I’d like to touch on areas that are the stuff of parent nightmares.

Everyone is concerned about adults possibly preying on children.  Teachers and parents know the warning signs of possible abuse and have information about who to inform if said abuse is happening.  Administrators also strenuously warn against being overly affectionate with kids, calling or texting them, or spending too much time alone with them.  People who go into teaching generally do so because they care about students and want to help them.  Thus, the warnings come with the explanation that teachers need to be careful and “above reproach” in their behavior, in order to protect themselves from false accusations and teach students appropriate ways to interact with adults.  Most teachers follow those guidelines.

But Tony decided he didn’t want to be like most teachers.

Tony worked with me at a middle school, and it was his first year in the classroom.  He decided he wanted to be the “cool teacher.”  Even though Tony was married and had small kids of his own, he decided that the rest of the staff was too uptight in dealing with students.  We just didn’t “get” them the way he did, and we weren’t properly “balancing work with fun.”

We all noticed that his classroom tended to get pretty loud.  But the things that followed were weirder.  He covered up the windows on the door of his classroom, which doubled as the computer lab.    Tony said that people “peeking in constantly” disrupted class.  Why no one questioned him on this, I’ll never know. 

 Lunch detention was for those students who didn’t do their homework or classwork.  Students had to eat lunch in silence and then work on their assignments.  The teacher was only to talk if he or she was helping a student.  I’ll skip the slow build up and just get right to the horrifying part.  Tony was supposed to be in charge of lunch detention one day, on a day that all the administrators happened to be off campus for a district meeting. 

Lisa, the grade level chairperson, was in the teacher’s lounge when she heard loud shrieks and squeals coming from Tony’s room.  She tried to enter the room, but the door was locked.  Lisa rattled the knob and knocked, but no one answered, and the noise continued.  So she pulled out her master key and unlocked the door.

Tony was in the midst of a pillow fight with a group of seventh grade girls.  He had gathered the cushions from the reading room and brought them in so the girls could “have some fun.”  When Lisa opened the door, Tony was leaning over a girl who was lying on the ground and he was pushing a pillow over her head.  The other girls were wandering around the room, some participating, some on their cell phones.
I have to hand it to Lisa, who was not Tony’s boss, but was his supervisor.  Lisa looked around, ordered the girls back to their seats, collected the cell phones, turned to Tony and said, “I’m sending you home for the day.  I’m sure the principal will want to speak to you, so expect her call tonight.” 

Tony never came back to work.  After grilling his students, administrators learned that pillow fights were a regular staple of his lessons, and one of the reasons why he covered up his windows.  He had also been texting several of the girls.  More horrifyingly, Tony was using class time to help his seventh-grade, 12-year-old students set up their own Facebook and Tumblr accounts, because he knew how important it was for them to “talk to their friends.”

Friends like him, maybe?

You may be thinking, “Charly, this guy was an idiot.  You don’t have any proof he was a predator.  Yes, he showed poor judgment, but that doesn’t make him a creeper.”

I submit to you that yes, it does.  Do you want someone like this spending time with your teenage daughter?  Not only that, no predator starts abusing kids right away.  He or she has to gain their trust first. 

Right now, a well-known and nationally celebrated teacher is fighting with his school district because he was barred from the classroom.  The story is that another teacher overheard him making a mildly inappropriate comment to his fifth-grade class, and the teacher mentioned it to someone.  News of the comment reached school administration, who opened an investigation, necessitating the teacher’s removal from the classroom.  This teacher claims he’s being targeted by small-minded bureaucrats who can’t see how much good he’s done for these students and who are conducting a “witch hunt.”  After all, he’s done “wonders” with his students and has turned down multiple opportunities to work elsewhere because he “cares” about these kids.

Maybe.  But here’s what I know:  An incredibly trustworthy teacher friend of mine who worked with this teacher for years said this man continually made sexually-themed comments to his FIFTH-GRADE CLASS.  This same man is well-known for badmouthing the prior teachers of his students and encouraging students to openly criticize other teachers at the school.  In the time they worked together, my friend caught this teacher in several small but troubling lies, and most damningly, walked in on him “tickling” two ten-year-old girls who were in his classroom hours after school had let out. Granted, this teacher regularly has anywhere from 15-20 students working in his room during after-school programs, but when my friend walked in, the programs had wrapped for the day and my friend expected to find the teacher in his room alone—that’s why he went in the first place.

Does this sound like a predator who grooms his victims and who is trying to create a cult of personality around himself?  It does to me.  Having met this man myself, I can tell you that he is a phenomenal teacher, with legions of teacher-fans.  I can also tell you that talking to him caused alarms to go off in my mind.

Teachers, you probably aren’t a predator.  But if you regularly allow kids to swear in your room, tell off-color jokes, allow them to ignore certain school rules while in your classroom, field inappropriate questions (Boxers or briefs?  Yes, I’m looking at you, Mr. President,) gossiped about other teachers with the class, badmouthed administration, or allowed excessive physical contact in any sort of way, then you  have seriously failed your students.  Any behaviors that you wouldn’t display with an administrator in the room shouldn’t be displayed at all.  An adult teacher needs to teach appropriate, responsible adult behavior.   

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.