Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?
-Ernest Gaines
Lord Galen
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Letter to my Students
January 1, 2011

This is an open letter to anyone who has ever been a student of mine, in my capacity as a public school educator. This is not something I expect to ever be read by any of you, but I write it nevertheless because there are things I wish to say to you all. I mean that quite literally; these are things I WISH I could say to you, but simply cannot.

Let me start by making a simple statement. The person you know is not me. The person you know is a pretender; a liar about so many things. If I were to be the person that I really am, well, you would never have known me at all.

You see, I work in the public education system. There are certain things that must be done in order to keep a job in the public education system. Oh, politicians and administrators will talk about fostering self-confidance and improving test performance and things like that, but the very first and foremost thing that any teacher must be able to do is maintain control over a classroom. If the kids are loud and not in their seats, you simply aren't in control and if you're not in control, you can't possibly be teaching! At least, this is how it works in public education.

You might not believe this, but I've gotten in trouble more than once for being too much like one of the kids. To be a friend and to be open with students is frowned upon. I'm supposed to be friendly, but maintain professional distance.

Because of this, you get a teacher who tries his best to balance on the knife's edge between being the kind of teacher he'd like to be and the kind of teacher he HAS to be.

Let me just stop beating around the bush and get to the real point here. This letter is an apology.

I'm sorry to all of you for every single time I've ever raised my voice or appeared to be angry with you. I'd like you all to know that I've very rarely ever truly been angry. I make you think that I am in order to control you, because if I don't have control, I don't keep my job and if I don't keep my job, my wife and I will living in a fucking cardboard box somewhere. I can't even begin to count the number of times you guys would say that I've been mad at you just in this school year, but you'd probably be surprised to know that I've only really been angry once. That one time was because a group of boys were teasing a girl because she had trouble understanding what I was teaching. Behind my back, as I tried to help her, they were making fun of her and I caught them and yes, THAT pissed me the fuck off! Most of the other times I've appeared angry are when you guys break my "Rule #1" which is "When I am talking, you are NOT." In truth though, I've never been angry at anyone for breaking that rule. Irritated, sure, cuz it's hard as fuck to keep your train of thought when people won't shut the fuck up, but not angry. I appear to be angry because that appearance will shut you up. I do that because I have to. I don't like it, but it's a neccesary evil. Not that I'd ever argue that point to anyone. I hope that all of you come to understand that some day. I know that there are quite a few kids who actually DO understand this and who never take it personally. For those kids, I'm truly grateful. They're the ones who wouldn't need an apology from me, but I offer it anyway.

I'm sorry for almost every punishment I've ever handed out. About 90% of the punishments I give are for things that I, honestly, don't think deserve to be punished. Most of the time, it's a simple matter of protocol and I dole out punishments on autopilot simply because it's procedurally correct and a matter of covering my own ass. For example, there was once this girl that I caught on YouTube watching an "inappropriate" music video (booty-shaking and shit like that). I took her recess. The Assisstant Principal heard about it only moments after she'd left my class and said that she needed to be written up for it. She subsequently recieved 3 days of in-school-suspension (ISS). The lesson I learned there was that even though I thought I'd reacted harshly, I had not reacted harshly enough! In my OWN opinion, what she'd done was virtually nothing. Honestly, *I* couldn't give less of a shit about what she was doing! But I took her recess away because I knew that if I didn't punish her, it'd be my ass on the chopping block. I gave her what I thought to be a harsh punishment and something "appropriate" in the minds of public educators. I had still not been harsh enough. It's things like this that teach me how I'm expected to behave as a teacher.

I often wonder if you guys notice the things that I DON'T punish. For example, absolutely anything I can get away with not enforcing, I don't. Not one student has ever heard me say one damn word about the dress code or tucking their shirts in, even though everybody else in that fucking building seems to be goddamn OBSESSED with that shit! I've never required a student to call me "sir" even though any other adult in the vicinity would "correct" them for answering me with "yes" instead of "yes, sir." There are some kids who do it, but most seem to have sub-consciously picked up on that fact and never call me sir. I'm happy about that. I've actually risked my job to keep students out of trouble for things that I knew they'd get into HUGE trouble over. Still, far too many punishments come from me. I'd like all of my students to know that I don't fucking care if you've got a cell phone or iPod in class. I don't give a goddamn if your shirt is untucked or your dress is too short. It's none of my fucking business how you dress.

I'm sorry to each and every one of you who has left my school hating me and thinking that I hate you. The ironic thing is that most of you were probably my favorite kids. The kids who rebel and "talk back" and just plain don't take authority lying down. The kids who are stubborn and pains in the ass to the people trying to tell them what to do. The kids who FIGHT the social control being imposed on them. I fucking LOVE these kids! But, I'm also a part of the system that's trying to break that spirit in them. Even typing that sentence - admitting that out loud - it kills me. I can feel part of me die inside to know what I do to those kids and to know that it's the "right" thing to do by society's standards.

But, in my own defense, I'm ineffective. Oh, I can control a classroom of 30 kids and I can be a fucking drill instructor about it, don't get me wrong. But I know that I'm not breaking anyone's spirit. I guess you'd really have to CARE about doing that, and I just don't.

I bet you'd all be completely shocked to know that I'm a Youth Rights advocate. I believe in your freedom and that you should be treated as equals to adults, not lessers, not "minors." That's another thing that I wonder if you ever notice; the respect I show you. Even when I feel like I have to be Sgt. Carter and come down hard on you, I try to treat you the same way I would treat an adult who was my subordinate. I do fail at that sometimes, I admit. It's very subtle and it's not something I'd expect any of you to notice, but it's there. It's there in the way that I've never yelled at anyone for asking "why" when I tell them to do something, but actually give them an answer. It's there in the fact that when you ask "why," I have never once uttered the words "because I said so." Those are the words of a fucking idiot. That respect is present in the way that I don't justify my actions by stating that I'm an adult, as if that's actually a reason. It's there in the fact that any student who has ever opened up to me about something that could potentially get them into trouble has never regretted doing so.

I'm not the worst thing in the public school system. I'd like to think I'm one of the better things there, but I wouldn't expect you guys to know that. On the surface, I seem to be like every other teacher; a bully.

You might wonder why I keep doing this. Why do I stay in a job where I have to go against so many of the things that I believe in? Let's say that I found myself in the 1800s, the owner of a plantation full of slaves. Now, like any intelligent person, I despise slavery. But let's think for a second. Under the law, those people are required to be slaves, no matter what I think about it. Are they better off as my slaves (me being someone who disagrees with slavery) or as someone else's? Suppose I say "Fuck this, I hate slavery, I can't do this job anymore, I quit!" Well, that isn't going to end slavery and it won't make those slaves free. All that would happen if I abandoned my plantation is that someone far worse than me would come in and take over. So, I keep the plantation and the slaves, so that I can treat them better than someone else would. And I hope for the day when I can say to them "I never wanted to be your master and I'm HAPPY to say that, unbeknowst to you, I have worked secretly to gain your freedom. Congratulations, you are FREE!"

And this is why I stay even though it breaks my heart and kills me a piece at a time. I stay because you're like those slaves and you're better off with me as your master than someone else.

I'm sorry for everything I've ever done that violates the principles of Youth Liberation that I hold so dear. Every day, I feel like a traitor to that cause. I survive only by the hope that one day - maybe not in my lifetime - young people like you will be treated with the respect and dignity you deserve. One day, I hope, it won't be "normal" and expected for me to be a complete asshole to you. One day, I SO hope, that will be what's frowned upon. I hope for that every single day and I hope that one day, you can forgive me for not being the man I really am. In class, you deserve Lord Galen and that's not what you get. I'm sorry.

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