The year was 1992 and I had left my job and comfortable situation at my junior high as teacher of English. It was a tough move to make; I’d been teaching junior high for 23 years, and in a position that offers few perks (one’s room assignment or proximity to the lav are two), it meant I’d give up even those small comforts.
But I was ready to move to the high school. I wanted to teach older kids.
In the spring of that year, we teachers were given assessment sheets on each of the students we had in class. Specifically, school authorities wanted to know about a student’s ethics, how he/she comported himself, principles.
And about that time I was witness to an awful event. It happened at the lockers, after school, right down the hall from my room, when few people were around.
I heard him screaming and pounding metal. When I walked out to check, I saw him hurl his girlfriend into a locker and then come at her, his face contorted in rage.
I called out “Rob (not his name)—Stop!” I separated them and then accompanied the girl to guidance where she would be apart from his personal control. I figured administration could corral him later; I wrote up the report of what I’d seen for the disciplinary team and left.
In the days ahead, I heard the matter had been dealt with, but I learned something else, too: oddly enough, despite my scathing report on this young man’s lack of principled behavior (I wrote in what I’d witnessed on his teacher assessment sheet), he was still named to that illustrious group.
Why? My witness account had been expunged from all records.
He was, after all, a football star, and those in power wanted to deny him nothing.
When I protested his inclusion in the ranks of top students (based on their well-roundedness) and questioned why the select committee asked about students’ behavior and ethics (if they weren’t going to give those weight), I was told my account was dismissed due to the fact it couldn’t be corroborated by others.
I was literally hung out to dry. Difference now? This abusive kid now knew I’d taken an official stand against him. That meant I was now in his sights.
Many of us take stands every day because we actually believe the institutional rhetoric that says these principles are important, but what we discover is: Administration (in some cases) merely gives them lip service.
This occasion wouldn’t be the only one where I stood up for what I believed was right. It’s just that it got increasingly more difficult to do so as the years went on…..
I once gave my younger daughter a placard that read: “Speak up…even if your voice quivers.” I still believe that, but I also know: Institutions big and small don’t necessarily want you, the employee, to do that.
That’s when you’ll face your own personal crisis.
Hats off to Vicky Triponey for her brave stand against Joe Paterno and the powerful football machine at Penn State. But if she’s exonerated and now praised, she’s one of the very few to achieve such. Hopefully, her story will inspire a trend.
Click here to read Vicky Triponey’s account of her standing up against Joe Paterna and the culture of football on CNN today.