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.