A while back, I read about an old high school teacher quitting after being accused of inappropriate behavior with students. I wasn’t surprised, because it instantly flung me into a memory in his classroom.
It was after school; I was retaking a test. It was just he and I in the room. I was sitting in my usual seat, and it was the end of the school year and since we had no AC, the fans were on their highest setting and the door was propped open. He was talking about his son’s sports scores. He switched subjects to his back tattoo that a classmate had pointed out that same day (it was visible through his white button-up). He chatted off and on about the sports scores and his tattoo when eventually he asked, “Do you want to see?”
Picture it. You’re retaking a test, meaning you failed it before, and a teacher is talking to you about various things. My concentration was not on this guy’s life, it was on my test that I still couldn’t figure out the answers to. I replied, “Sure” as I looked down at my paper. I clearly remember assuming he would show me his kid’s sports scores, we were just talking about it! But no. Far too late, I look up from my test to see my teacher standing in front of me, hiking his shirt up to show me his back tattoo.
I was shocked.
First off, it was a stupid tattoo. Second off… why? Why is this okay? I have no idea if I finished my test. The next thing I remember is running down the hall to a female teacher and standing in front of her to say that Mr. So and So showed me his back tattoo. I can’t recall what she said, I only remember her staring at me.
Fast forward almost a decade later. This same teacher has been required to register as a Tier 1 sex offender. Not for anything to do with my story but from complaints made by various students.
As I read the accusatory article, I wondered if I should have told my principal or even the superintendent to whom I sold Girl Scout cookies in 4th grade. Why didn’t I tell my parents? I had a great relationship with them. And I can tell you why; it was because it was so gray. It didn’t seem too bad. It was weird. It was stupid but I wasn’t harmed. As I read through a few quotes from the court case, it seemed that students who testified had similar feelings and experiences that I had. Boundaries were crossed, barely, so maybe there’s no need to make a fuss.
I wish I would have made a fuss.
I wish I would have said something then so that maybe other students wouldn’t have gone through what they did. Why should they need to weigh in their minds the decisions of an adult in a position of authority? Why did I have to? It’s not acceptable. I would never tell my children to simply let it go like I told myself so many years ago.
The detective in the case heard from many students that this teacher crossed boundaries all the time. There’s no need. As a teacher, there is no need to push such boundaries. You don’t get to show kids your back tattoo. You get to do your job.
If I ever hear of a teacher acting in a similar fashion, you can be sure that I will make a fuss. I will always make a fuss. Call me a Karen, I don’t care. I will teach my children that it’s okay to always ask questions. Question behaviors, not out of fear or disrespect, but out of curiosity and confidence in their own instincts.
And lastly, I will show myself a little more grace. I was still a kid. I had the privilege of having very few encounters with adults who pushed the envelope. I want more kids to have that privilege. Educate your children. Protect your children, young and (what they think is) old. Teach them that it can be okay to make a fuss.