Chalk It Up to My 30 Years Before a Class is a book I wrote many years ago, and never published. Since so much of it is still relevant, I may publish at some point. Chapters detail the joys and pitfalls of teaching, the many students I had over the years, my struggles and accomplishments. This is a chapter from that book.
I heard the ruckus outside, in the hall. It happened late, one afternoon, in a particularly-deserted corridor of the high school, when few people were about. As an English teacher, I’d been correcting papers and stayed to finish up. It was my fifth year in the high school, but I was hardly a novice.
I’d taught for 24 years already, in 3 other schools. My moves were all elective. I wanted to go back to teaching high school students (before I retired) since I’d last taught that level in my student-teaching days.
My population of students wasn’t particular in any way…Just your average 15-18 year old’s, anxious to get on with their lives. Some were over-achievers; others were slackers; most were content to drift along, having no particular grasp on what they should do for the rest of their lives.
Few have at their age.
Because it was so quiet, I heard the crash distinctly. The rattling of body against metal locker. Loud yelling followed.
“What do ya mean, talking to him…you b***h?” “Are you tryin’ to make me nuts?” “What the F**k’s wrong with you?”….SLAM…..
I came out to see a disheveled girl against a locker, with her boyfriend pinning her against it. He was one of the supposed heroes of the school, a gridiron superstar…tall, muscular, handsome. His girlfriend was tiny, by comparison, a little bit of a thing, all of 5’2,” weighing maybe a hundred pounds.
I called out, “What’s going on here?”
With that, he turned to me with a shocked look of “Fury Caught-in-the-Act.”
I continued, gingerly, for I knew domestic abuse. I knew, too, she’d be in even more dangerous territory if I dressed him down, in front of her. He’d only visit more wrath on her, later.
Instead, I asked her: “Are you all right?”
I knew what she’d say…
She nodded “Yes.”
I went on to tell them fighting like this wasn’t healthy, but I knew my words were wasted.
But my intervention bought her some time. His fury subsided—out of necessity. The moment when the adrenalin (testosterone?) pumped uncontrollably in the abuser had dissipated—for now. I’d broken that chain.
Next, I did what I could: I wrote up the incident for school disciplinarians and detailed what I witnessed: He threatened her…He physically assaulted her (I didn’t see but I’d heard.)
That event came at a particularly-inauspicious time for the young man since National Honor Society members were being selected. We teachers were asked to weigh in on the candidates, regarding their moral fiber…their character.
Because I was his English teacher, he needed my assessment in the categories the committee produced. In other words, he needed my recommendation.
I couldn’t give it….I refused to give it.
What happened? School administrators circumvented my evaluation, calling his behavior a one-time aberrant action. A team of administrators (all men) gave consensus. Why? We were a jock school who lionized its athletes.
My negative witness was buried under a wall of paper.
He was there on Award Night. He went up on the stage when his name was called. Applause accompanied his receiving the certificate.
But 3 of us knew he never met the steep standards the committee established…
Just as one of us knew he’d most likely threaten women, again and again, over the course of his lifetime.
You see, to me, he was a member of another select group:
He was an Abuser.