The Rise and Fall of Me – ch. 19/20

The chapter in which I explain a pretty good lie.


In the previous chapter, I explained how the state department of education was coming after me and I was awaiting a verdict.

From September through December of 2011, I had one of the worst feelings you can ever experience.  It’s that thing when you have something nagging you, something big, and every once in a while you get that luxury of having forgotten.  You’re watching football or driving, listening to the radio, and the trouble is lost for a while.  Then you stop at a red light, a commercial comes on, and as you’re flipping stations to find a good song – BANG.  The nagging thought comes at you like a bull at a rodeo.  Whatever it was, it had slowly dripped away, from one bucket to another, but then all at once, someone takes the other bucket and dumps it all on your head.  Bam!  That sucks.

It was time.  Waiting for the state board of examiners to decide if I was fit to be a teacher.  Good enough to be a teacher.  Waiting for an “exalted mystic ruler” to bestow upon me the right to continue what I had done very well for over 20 years.  Each day, waiting for a letter, phone call, e-mail, something, a verdict.  It’s a horrible feeling.

What made it even more horrible was that very few people even knew about it.  Believe it or not, up until this series, I didn’t talk about my life very much anywhere except in my own circle of friends, which wasn’t even a circle.  More like a hexagon or an octagon.  Only one friend – Mike – the union president – had any knowledge of what was happening.  He regularly asked, researched on his own, and offered encouragement.  He was familiar with my attorney but not greatly.  He told me things to ask and offered what little help he could.  It was at least as if I had someone comfortable in my corner.

About two weeks before Christmas, I got the verdict – revoked.  That means that even though other teachers were hitting, touching, degrading, and verbally abusing students; even though other teachers were awaiting trials for murder, assault, sexual assault, tampering with evidence, tampering with a dead body, and forgery; even though other teachers were arranging dates between female students and ex-convicts; I – Me – I was the one the state decided was no longer fit to be a teacher.  Just. Plain. Stunned.  Two weeks before Christmas, and this is what I get in the mail.  God double dog dammit.


Appeals were common, but having the union pay for the appeal was not common.  Luckily, they were willing to cover the cost.  However, the only real effect of the appeal was that it gave me another 45 days to keep my teaching certificate and continue working, but I knew my days were numbered.  I did not at all put much weight or hope into an appeal.  As a high-up state educator once said, “Hope is not a strategy.”  But there were no more strategies.  What could the board of examiners have been using to determine that I was a danger to kids and not those other people?  What had I really done?  I talked.  I used words that some people don’t like to hear.  Is that really so bad?  I guess it’s all subjective.

The governor had been waging what seemed like a war on teachers and education.  He was regularly calling us out and putting us down.  He had been in a great fight with the state teachers union to such a degree that retirements had doubled in the year following his battle against us.  All I could think is that the governor, while not directly involved with my case, had sent the message that teachers were now more expendable than ever.  Get rid of any veteran teacher possible.  That was plausible, but not likely.  If it were true, then those other teachers, ones who were guilty of or awaiting trial for assault and other crimes, they would have been gone also.  They too would have had their teaching certificates revoked, but they didn’t.  Finally, I was special.  Yay.

The Christmas/Winter break had come and gone, and it was early January.  The answer to my appeal would arrive around the 24th, and my days were literally numbered.  I called together my few friends at my school and gave them the whole story, start to finish.  I told them that they would hear rumors and stories, that those who didn’t like me would exaggerate my situation and I would need them to be ready to answer for me, to shut people up.  They were stunned at my story, especially because they were just as aware as I was of teachers who had done far worse.

We had a principal in our building who had struck a 4th grade student while calling him an “idiot.”  Nothing happened to her, but I was unfit for duty.  We had an assistant principal who incited a riot, flipped desks over while yelling through a microphone and resulting in a high school population taking to the parking lot in an angry protest mob, but I was unfit for duty.  I told me story to the few people I cared about and cared for me, and I left them all not knowing what to do except a pre-exit hug.  I told them about the appeal, but I knew it was highly unlikely.

In the prosecutor’s response to my appeal, she remarked how the defendant (that’s me) “inexplicably” filed the same briefs as in my original reply to her motion to revoke.  What that means is my attorney filed the exact same statements, nearly word for word, as my appeal.  He wasn’t even able to come up with anything original in my appeal.  He couldn’t even look at their motion and find fault.  He didn’t even do enough research – like I clearly did – and maybe point out all the people who were only given suspensions after having physically struck kids.  He couldn’t even ask, “Why did you guys give teachers a slap on the wrist after they smacked kids, but you’re going to throw this guy out on his ass when all he did was use some questionable language to another adult?”  He didn’t even have the ability to do that, such a minimal thing, and he screwed it up.  I was done.

Mike called, or maybe he texted, not sure, but he said, “Don’t come into school tomorrow.  Call out sick.”  I did.  He knew, maybe before I knew.  He’s got strong connections.  The appeal was “denied,” thus the “revocation” was “effective immediately.”  From 1987 to 2012 I had done nothing else other than run a classroom, but now the classroom door was shut and the locks were changed.  My keys were useless.


Didn’t take long for there to be a newspaper story, and it didn’t take long into the story for it to be wrong.  My school – well, my former school – was close to Atlantic City, the main newspaper there being the Atlantic City Press.  According to their story, I was sending pornography through email.  They asked the school administrators about me, and one said, “I don’t know him, don’t know anything about him.  But if this story is true, then I don’t want him in my school.”  I guess the positive part is she said “if.”  Little victory there.

The story also said that I, “could not be reached for comment.”  Hey, fuck you buddy.  You didn’t call me for comment, but you want to act as if you tried and I wouldn’t talk to you.  Maybe you should have written, “I was too friggin’ lazy eating French fries to make a real attempt to contact him.”  How about a little courtesy?  To this day I think about emailing or calling the guy, maybe asking him to fix the story, but it won’t do any good because I know they won’t change anything.  I wasn’t sending and receiving pornography.  Someone sent me some questionable things, and it was nine years ago.  But that doesn’t make a good story, does it?  Nah.

When I mentioned other teachers who had done worse, I posted links to their court documents, but I’m not doing that for myself, not to hide anything but for a more important reason.  When you Google things, what comes up first is what is most popular.  The more someone clicks on the links to what happened to me, the higher up those entries appear.  I’m trying to avoid that, to keep those links further down on the page.  So all I can do is ask you not to click on those links to help them not be at the top of a Google search.  I understand your curiosity, and I would likely want to read those stories if I were you.  I understand what you would want, but I have to hope you can understand how that would make things worse for me.

I immediately started job searching for things that involved writing or teaching.  I found copywriting jobs, editing, and proofreading positions.  I found jobs for writing, editing, proofreading questions and standardized tests, the same tests that I had spent 20 years training kids to pass.  I found a local company that writes and prints newsletters for other companies.  I found many positions that could easily hire me to use the skills I had been perfecting since college, since high school.


Okay, there are some key words to focus on here: “I found” is nice, but it doesn’t matter unless they also find me.  “could easily hire me…”  Yes, they “could,” but that doesn’t mean they have, will, or would.  I’ll save you the suspense.  In roughly 20 months, from January, 2012, to this past September, I had a total of one interview, which was worthless.  In roughly 20 months, I have sent over 200 applications.  One interview for hundreds of jobs that I could easily do, given my qualifications and abilities.  I was baffled as to why I wasn’t getting any calls or replies for interviews.  Here I am, over 20 years of writing/editing/proofreading experience, teaching others to write and work with language, but nobody wanted me to work for them as a copyeditor or anything like that?  Why not?  The internet.

Where do human resources people go to check out possibly hirings?  The internet.  And if someone were to Google my name, what’s going to come up?  A pile of shit that incorporates pornography, losing a teaching certificate, and children.  When you put those three things together, you get a pile of shit with my name on it.  The three things did not mix, but you can’t tell that from what you read.  I didn’t break any laws, I didn’t hurt anyone, I didn’t even attempt to hurt anyone, but in the opinions of the people who count, I was a bad person – potentially bad person – and all the innuendo was there for public consumption.  And for those who recently asked – this is why I now use a pen name when writing in attempts for publication.  And for those who I have misled by allowing you to believe I have “retired” from teaching, I apologize.  I did not retire.  I was kicked out of the club, kicked to the curb, discarded and dispensed and disgusted.

I did actually work – for about a month.  That was interesting.  I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room and picked up a copy of a magazine I had never seen before.  Jerseyman Magazine, covering sports, music, wine, and “guy” stuff in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area.  While reading an interview with a goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers, I noticed too many errors.  When I got home, I scratched off an email to the owner, letting him know that he had a good magazine, but there were too many errors.  Within minutes he emailed back, said thanks, and asked for some examples.  Within minutes, I sent about 25 examples.  Within minutes, he replied with, “Can you come into our office next week?”

I met the guy, Ken Dunek, former tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, and he offered $100 for each story that I would edit.  I was thrilled.  A chance to use my writing skills on a professional level instead of beneath the whip of public education.  On a summer Sunday, I found about 20 stories in my email, read through them all, made changes and suggestions, and was looking at $2,000.  Fabulous.  I was then invited to a monthly networking event at a rather fancy restaurant, and I struck up a few conversations with several interesting people from other companies.  Fabulous.  This was going to be okay.  Not.

About a week later I get an email from Mr. Dunek:  “We will no longer need your services.  Thanks very much.”  I asked what I had done wrong, what I could possibly do better.  He replied with something like, “Thanks very much and good luck.”  My only guess is that someone at the magazine looked up my name, saw the incredible story that was painting me very unfairly, and they did not want any association with me.

So here I am now – wondering what is going to happen with the next 23 years.  The good thing is that I can write, evidence mounting, I hope, but each day I get reminders of what went wrong and how unfair it feels, that thing when you have some kind of trouble and you forget about it for a while, but then it all rushes back to you.  I guess there’s only one chapter left – which is what I’m doing now and where I think I’m going.


20 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Me – ch. 19/20

  1. I wish I had anything productive or insightful to say ..I recently found out personal struggles of my friends with relation to employment among others and all there is that there are people out there who make me sad, disgusted, and humble for my life.

    • it is all a humbling experience. although i know that the leftovers of my professional career and reputation have been unfairly ended and tarnished – i can at least (for what it’s worth) know that i never really did anything wrong or bad. what i did was just a matter of opinion. thanks very much for your kind thoughts.

  2. Well that answers some questions I had. It sucks Rich, sucks big time. Not sure anything else I have to say would make a difference. I do know what it’s like to be ‘targeted’. Damn it, it’s so …, you know what it’s like since you are living it. Can I give you a virtual hug?

      • Just some questions that were in the back of my head when I read your story last time. These last few chapters are answering them. If I had more pressing questions I would email you. I’m nosey sometimes is all and after reading your chapters last time some questions were not answered.

  3. I feel for you. It never ceases to amaze me how people believe, word for word, what is written in the press (or other media, come to that). The only good thing to come out it, I suppose, is the powerful piece you have written here. So that is a positive. I apologise if that sounds patronising, I’m just a ‘silver lining’ kind of girl. Thanks for sharing, I really enjoy your writing.

    • i was always one who thought that newspapers would never print something unless they were certain, but i now realize differently. not just because it happened to me but also because i’ve seen some of these people in person. i know how they have learned to sensationalize in order to get their own attention. they now have something more to gain than just the pride of a good story. if it is a good story.

      i appreciate that you’d spend your time reading what i’ve written. thanks very much.

  4. I sit, stunned by this. Amazed by the tarnishing and infuriated this continues. I went back to read what I had missed then came here. I wish I had something enlightening to say, something that would help besides this simply pisses me off.

    There isn’t a single drop of intelligence within the hiring community that would question the veracity of what they are reading on the internet. Idiots.

    I wish you could hold all these fools up before a mirror of their ignorance and foolishness. Lambast them with their greed and stupidity. Maybe you will, polish this piece a bit more and publish it.

    • it’s been suggested that i attempt to publish all this, and i talked to a guy who lectures about memoir. he said i could have what’s called a “non-fiction bonus,” in which i not just tell my story but add things to help educate people about the situation. there are chapters i’ve left out illustrating where education is going wrong these days, but i (egotistically) got the vibe that readers would care more about my personal situation and not so much about where education is failing systematically.

      oh well, more to contemplate, and – as always – your encouragement is like a strong, seasoned log on the fire. thanks very much.

  5. you are like hester in ‘the scarlet letter.’ hope things begin to go better from here. as vince lombardi once said, ‘once you are on the floor, you cannot fall any lower.’

  6. Hi Rich,
    I read this the day you posted and have been thinking about it ever since. It resurrected some bitter conclusions. To cut to the heart of it, the saddest thing is that good teachers are not valued in our society. And bad teachers are allowed to continue promoting mediocrity. The system pretends it’s difficult to determine what good teaching is, but everyone at a school knows who the good and bad teachers are. I see your story being the result of the system not recognizing the valuable contribution you had made, were making, would make in the future. The system got its panties in a moralistic wad and made a judgment that damaged everyone, you, the students, and the system itself. No wonder American education is so far behind other countries. Ron

    • I greatly appreciate your kind words and poignant comments. Nobody wants to seriously address what is wrong with education. The problem begins before kids even set foot in the building, but the people most responsible for the problem are also least capable of fixing the problem.

      Everyone seems to want to change the way we teach because they assume that kids today are learning differently than we did. But kids today are born no differently than we were born. They come out just as ready, or not ready, as we did 50 years ago. There is no biological difference. Yet kids are not learning as easily as we seemed to learn back then. So what has changed?

      Parents have changed, not kids. We are not preparing our kids today the way our parents prepared us for school and life. And all this will be in a future chapter.

      Thanks again and happy Monday.

  7. Back from my absence and this is what I find. Wow. I know I haven’t read the past few chapters, but this sucks and I feel for you. This reminds me of a former boss that everyone thought was the greatest ever, but I thought he was a bit too slick. He believed that who people think you are is more important than who you actually are. He would say that your story supports his point … then again, i still disagree with him. Rich, hang in there.

  8. Rich – While I can’t relate specifically, I can relate to having an entire career wiped away and being blacklisted. And there are simply no words.

    In your situation, it sounds like you might have a very good case for legal malpractice if you’re inclined to follow through.

    My heart goes out to you.


    • my heart accepts your heart and thanks the both of you. as for legal malpractice, i had looked into it and was told that the only way that would be successful would be if i could prove that, if different decisions were made by my attorney, i would have won the case against me. that’s very difficult to prove, and it’s also difficult to accept. i would have hoped i could at least get a new hearing, but that was not so. in this situation, it was like going to the president to complain about the vice president. both of them were on the same team, so i was not about to win any sympathy. it just plain sucked.

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