The Chapters I Didn’t Want to Write
This chapter, combined with the next, is the reason I never finished the “Rise and Fall” series the first time. Plain and simple – I didn’t want to write this chapter. Nothing else to say. It is the most difficult life experience I have had. I think. More difficult than my divorce and the idiot ex-wife I am still dealing with who, at this moment, is attempting to put me in jail. I mean literally – she filed a motion with the court asking a judge to put me in jail because – well – maybe that should be another chapter. Yeah, another chapter.
Also, before I continue, I must remind you of my hesitancy to continue because this is the kind of story that you will not see anywhere else. Not in first person, not from the person to whom it happens. Nobody wants to talk about these things – but I do. I don’t gain anything by hiding this. I thought I should hide it, and I was advised to hide it, but I don’t work that way. Oh, you noticed? Good.
Meanwhile, let’s pick this up where we left off. After about five years in Pleasantville, where things were starting to go nicely in a very crappy school, something happened. Not sure exactly when, but sometime in my fourth year I had gotten a letter from the State Department of Education which basically said this – “Prove to us why we should allow you still be a teacher after all the horrible things you have done.”
As you can imagine, I was both confused and frightened. I didn’t understand. What horrible things had I done? I wasn’t sure, but it did not take long for the teacher’s union to kick into gear and assign an attorney to my situation. Just great. Attorneys, courts, judges. Not my friends. What the hell had I done?
“Conduct unbecoming a teacher.”
That didn’t tell me very much, so I had to meet with a lawyer to find out what was going on.
You might remember back in chapter 12 when I was fired from a school because of using the school e-mail to send messages with inappropriate language. To review the accusation, my messages included but were not limited to the following:
- Inappropriate use of school property
- Inappropriate language (between adults)
- Disregard for authority
I don’t deny any of that, but I will contend over and over:
- I broke no laws.
- I was not accused of breaking any laws.
- I touched nobody.
- I hurt nobody.
- All messages were seen only by me and a consenting adult.
Yet, despite all that, I was fired. I was okay with that. I accepted responsibility and moved on. Apparently, the state department of education did not move on.
Although eight years had passed from the time of that incident to the moment in this chapter, the state department of education decided that just having me fired – eight years prior – was not enough. They wanted more.
Maybe they were bored, had nothing else to do, I’m not really sure. But eight years after the fact, the state decided that instead of just firing me, they decided that I should not be a teacher at all. Not ever ever ever. What could have possessed them to revisit this situation, I have no clue. Why they did not seek this out from the beginning, I can’t imagine. Maybe someone was sitting around the office with nothing to do. Someone was flipping through some old files, saw my name, and said, “Hey, let’s have some fun. Let’s ruin this guy’s life.”
“Didn’t we do that already?” said someone else.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t enough. Let’s find him and really give him Hell.”
I sat in my attorney’s office as we flipped through dozens of pages, copies of dozens of e-mails stretching over about two month’s time. The more we read, the more certain things started to make “sense.” For example, the problem wasn’t only that I had sent e-mail with inappropriate language, there were also pornographic images that were sent. When we argued that I was the receiver – not the sender of pornography – the state did not care. There were zero, absolute zero e-mails in which I sent pornographic images. It didn’t matter. Somehow, the state believed I should have done something to stop the images from coming to me. Absurd.
Also of great concern to the state was that the e-mails discussed teachers having relationships with students. When we argued that we were not condoning those relationships but were instead making fun of them, the state did not care. Somehow, they translated our joking about such relationships to mean that we did not think those relationships were wrong. Somehow, when I mentioned a student who wanted a “relationship” with me but had a sexually transmitted disease (STD), the state translated that to mean that if the student did not have an STD, then I would have agreed to the “relationship.” More absurd.
The state argued that, because I was using a school/classroom computer, then it was “likely” that a student might be able to see what was contained in those e-mails. I argued – and the state agreed – that these messages were sent during a time when my classroom was empty. In fact, in one message, my friend asked how I had the time to do this during school. I answered that the room was empty, it was during my free time. There it was, proof that no kids were around, perfect proof in the same e-mail the state was trying to use against me. All the proof I could want, right? The state said, “Well, okay, but a student could have walked into the room, so it was still possible.” Much more absurd. So now we can get in trouble for what “could have” happened instead of what actually happened? Does that mean we can be arrested for thinking about a crime, even if we have not actually committed the crime? Do we now have Thought Police?
The “disregard for authority” accusation made no sense either. I had written that I did not care if my superintendent read my e-mail. That’s a crime? That makes me a bad person? That is so wrong that I should not be allowed to continue a teaching career of 23 years? Beyond absurd.
Another complaint against me was for my “insensitive and discriminatory attitude.” Here’s what that’s from. In one-mail I mentioned two different women who I thought might be lesbian. I suggested to the friend to whom I was e-mailing that maybe we could introduce the two lesbians to each other. That’s “insensitive”? That’s “discriminatory”? Beyond absurd.
After a number of exchanges between my attorney, me, and the state prosecutor, they offered me a one-year suspension. I thought that was a good thing, but my attorney disagreed. He said that the one-year suspension would allow me to keep my teaching certificates, but it would cause me to lose my job. Also, he had successfully defended a few other people who had done worse than what I did (although I still don’t think what I did was so bad) so he was very certain he could win this case too.
We then researched years of cases in which teachers were threatened with losing their careers. We found hundreds of teachers who had physically struck, punched, kicked, slapped, and knocked students to the floor but only received a one-year suspension. I talked to a chief school administrator (aka “superintendent”) who told me that the unwritten rule is “One given.” That means you’re allowed one time to hit a student. If you ever do that again, then you will lose your teaching license. In one case, a teacher knocked a student down, left the classroom, then came back to kick him. If that teacher was suspended for only one year, then certainly my case – in which I just used some bad words – my case did not merit an equal punishment. Right? Right??
My attorney and I practiced in his office. He asked questions that might be asked of me during the hearing. The questions were about things that had happened eight years before. One of my answers was, “I don’t know. It was too long ago.” He didn’t like that answer and said the judge won’t like it either. I said, “Do you want me to lie?” He said, “I want you to be sure of yourself.” But I couldn’t be sure of something that was, to me, a minor detail from too far in the past. The attorney said that I seemed “abrasive,” as if I were “hiding something.” Absurd. I rarely hide anything, testament being this awful autobiographical series about my rise and fall.
The attorney then made a bold decision – we were not going to court. We were just going to “file briefs,” which meant we were submitting our case in writing but not appearing in person to face questions. He made this decision the day before – the very day before – we were due in court. I was not happy, regardless of how much he tried to assure me that it was better. I suspected that he just didn’t feel like travelling the nearly two hours from Vineland to Trenton.
It was August, a new school year was about to start, and I was freaking out. A twenty-three year career was hanging in the balance like a mouse dancing on a kitchen shelf as a drooling cat was pacing below.
You cannot be surprised that this is where I would choose to end this post and make you wait for the outcome to be explained in chapter 18. However, there will definitely be a chapter 19, and a strong chance for a 20. Now, as a gift, I will entertain you with links to cases in which teachers committed some interesting acts of injustice but received only suspension. My apologies that it is not possible to black out the names of those involved, but it is a matter of public record.
1. Murder (indicted)
2. Attempted Murder
3. Publicly humiliated students, cell phone calls during class, gave extra credit for watching R-rated movies, discussed her dating habits with class
4. DWI and resisting arrest
6. Marijuana Possession
7. False accusation of child molestation
8. Tampering with evidence and public records
9. Sending sexual text messages to female students
10.Arranging meeting between 14 yr. old female student and former convict who sent sexual messages to the female student
11.Sexual contact with a student
12.Theft of school funds
13.Sexual assault, luring a child (indicted)