In which I tell a brief, unpleasant story

I’m pretty sure I have never told anyone this story before– not in print, not in person, it’s not in Searching for Malumba, nothing– and I’m also not exactly sure what chain of thought brought it to mind as I was taking a post-pool shower and shaving my head just now, but now that it’s there I’m gonna talk about it.

It is 2005, and I am either on my last day of student teaching or it is the last day before Spring Break; I don’t remember which. I have three years of actual teaching experience, but I spent them at a Catholic school because I wasn’t certified, and completing my MA and getting my certification means I need to student teach anyway. I have ended up at a massively overcrowded (45+ students in several classes) K-8, primarily Puerto Rican, Spanish-speaking school on Chicago’s north side. I am teaching Language Arts and I have 6th through 8th graders.

My mentor teacher, a woman (this is relevant) tells me we need to talk about something before I go, and something about her tone immediately alarms me. She hands me a folded note. I open it and note that about half of the paper has been cut off, possibly to preserve a handful of student signatures. I am teaching LA in this building, however, so this doesn’t do a ton of good as I recognize the handwriting and I know who the young lady in question’s friends are.

The note says that I have been staring at her and her friends’ butts, and that none of them feel safe around me.

I note that there is a date on the note. It is about exactly two weeks old.

Chances are I paled a bit. This is bad. This is real bad. For a bunch of perfectly obvious reasons, plus the one where if I fail student teaching I’ve basically wasted the large amount of money I’ve borrowed to pay for this degree.

I look up at my mentor teacher, about to start strenuously denying some shit.

“It’s not true,” she says before I can get a word out. “I’ve been watching you for two weeks. You aren’t doing that.” I think about it for a moment, and I also realize that I’ve had this specific girl as well as all of her friends in small group instruction several times since this must have been written, with no inexplicable drama occurring. My mentor teacher has set the groups.

My mentor teacher goes on to explain that she’s not told anyone about the note, and that she wouldn’t have unless she witnessed some sort of untoward behavior herself on my part, so the two of us are the only adults who know about it. She says it’s a product of– and I will never forget hearing her say this– “these kids’ fucked-up lives, and their fucked-up problems,” and that she wanted me to know about it but that I shouldn’t spend any time worrying about it.

(Thinking about it, this must have happened before Spring Break, because I feel like she said “spend your Spring Break” worrying about it.)

And now, fifteen years later, this story pops back into my head, and as I’m thinking about it, I’m trying to decide how I might have handled it, if I were in the same position she was in, and whether I think she did the right thing by not sharing the note with anyone and just observing me herself. I mean, I wasn’t under her direct supervision every time I was with kids; that’s not how student teaching works. It’s conceivable that I might have been saving my creepery for when there weren’t other adults around, yes?

(To be perfectly clear, I wasn’t. But still. She didn’t know me that well.)

I genuinely do not know– I don’t think she told me, as opposed to this being something I’ve forgotten– whether she had a sit-down with whoever signed the note or not. The situation, again, appears to have been forgotten about as soon as the note was written, because surely I’d have heard about it faster if they had kept complaining.

What do y’all think? What’s the move here?

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

3 thoughts on “In which I tell a brief, unpleasant story

  1. Seems to me she was doing her due diligence and checking the facts before she potentially ruined anyone’s life, yours or the girls in question. Not a lot of that going around these days.


  2. Some thoughts on this (most of which you will probably have occurred to you already): 1) Roman Catholic teaching is along the lines of woman are temptresses, and men cannot help being tempted – Original Sin etc. I’m not RC, but I spent three years at an RC convent boarding school between the ages of 8 and 11 being taught that men were dangerous beasts out to get you for reasons I could not grasp. 2) Teenage brains are in a major state of flux between the ages of 13 and 15 and the urge to experiment, test boundaries, rebel etc are at their greatest (no news to you) and their capacity to over or under interpret is crazy. 3) Teen girls in gangs dare each other to do stuff and get very bold especially if they have a leader. 4) One of the girls may have experienced, know, or have overheard someone talking about abuse or what happened to a teacher who was involved. So it seemed to them like a ‘good idea’ to fly this kite.
    I guess your mentor was able to put everything together and make the right call. I was harassment officer in a research unit for a couple of years and found this kind of decision both worthwhile and horrendously difficult.


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