I have a fiery side to me, and I am just about to send off a letter to one of my past teachers. Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty, too).
Please read and tell me what you think, before I drop this in the mail.
Dear Ms. L,
A stroll down memory lane the other day brought me to the X Junior High School website, where I happened to discover you are now serving the school as a guidance counselor. Congratulations on your promotion.
From time to time I reflect upon my past, accomplishments and people who have influenced my life at one crossroads or another, and sometimes these little mental jogs bring me to my childhood. I have many happy memories of growing up in Cincinnati, to be sure. My parents worked hard to fill my younger days with joy, and from Girl Scout camp-outs, to learning how to ride my bike on X Drive, there certainly is plenty for me to look back on with fond happiness.
It gives me great pleasure thinking about the wonderful childhood I had, and all of the truly remarkable adults, brimming with class and integrity, who shaped me to be the fine woman I am today. Regretfully, I cannot say I hold you in the same regard.
I have included a photo of myself from "the old days" in this letter. I'm sure you can look through the yearbooks to help place just who I was those many years ago. I was a 7th grader for the 1989-1990 class year, and an 8th grader for the year that followed. There were many ways I shined amidst my class body: I was a stand out singer for my grade and a member of the exclusive X troupe led by Mary Doe. I contributed to the school paper and was even featured in one article as one of the best read 8th graders for that year. For one year I volunteered every Sunday at a nursing home in Grovers Corners and I was also a dedicated babysitter in my neighborhood. Those are just a few ways I respectably contributed to my class and community, unfortunately those accolades are tarnished by the memories of mean spirited character assassinations.
Do you remember me as the child who was viciously gossiped about in your Home Economics class? While I was painstakingly busy with scissors, pins and a Butterick shirt pattern, several of my classmates were consumed with passing on hurtful and untruthful comments about the kind of girl I was. At this juncture I won't criticize the way you were running your classroom, although I have strong disgust for a teacher who allows students to spitefully gossip about another child (we are talking about 13 and 14 year old kids, after all). I do, however, have several questions I'd like for you to consider about how you handled the situation at hand.
I am happy to be more specific If perhaps your memory is failing you about those days so long ago.
I was the subject of a hurtful grade school rumor, specifically focusing on my sexual orientation. It's laughable now, that anyone would even discuss the sexual orientation of a 13 year old girl, when children at that age are so innocent and not considered sexual beings. But those many years ago it was a topic that consumed the halls, the buses, in fact the classrooms at dear old X Junior High. The size of the school did not make my burden any easier, for every day hundreds of students would remind me of my "place" in the school. Despite my promising intelligence and talents, I was the lowest of the low in the junior high social food chain, and the taunts in the stairwells and at locker banks never let me forget it.
For months I didn't tell my parents about my daily burden. The taunting spoke of a subject far too embarrassing for a junior high girl to broach with her mom and dad. But one day it came out (no pun intended), and with it the pain and heartache I worked so hard to keep bottled up.
One day that year you called my mother to inform her about "my problem" and how you felt I needed to have a conversation with Mr. C in the counselors' office so I could talk about my issues. Ms. L., do you realize now how errant you were in that decision? Do you realize now how neglectful you were, in taking the word of a few mean girls as gospel, instead of sending them to an authority for speaking unkindly about another classmate? As an adult of 28, I look back on the situation with pure astonishment that you would send a young, teenage girl to a man to speak about such a sensitive matter.
I am bowled over with how incredibly wrong you were in your decision making that day. As a teacher, as a leader, as an adult, you failed me. You failed to help a student in need, and instead catered to the popular crowd inside that Home Ec. Class. You failed to defend a child under fire in her very own school. You failed to help a hurting child with crumbling self esteem and a fragile social circle. Most teachers don't get called out by their students, years down the road, for the mistakes they've made. But I've thought about how grotesquely wrong you were and how you deserve a correction, albeit 14 years late.
You deserve a huge F for how incredibly wrong you were that day.
Strength arose from somewhere inside me, no thanks to you, Ms. L. Somehow I was able to walk through those halls with a brave face, ignoring the comments that clawed at my confidence and mean jokes that tried to steal away my happiness. The rumor was more than junior high spitefulness; it was vicious, cruel and severely damaged my self esteem for several years. The halls of your fine junior high were full of hatred, and it was that very hated that led my parents to enroll me in X Academy for my freshman year of high school. It was that wretched cruelty that led my parents to move our family to Connecticut when the opportunity posed itself. It was that hate that led me to forget, to literally black out so many names and faces of people who hurt me.
But not yours.
Years later, I am a cultured, strong, intelligent woman. A success story by anyone's standards. I would gather to say I am far more successful than most of the X Junior High Class of 95. I have a college degree and have been working as a television news producer for over five years. I am a poised, well spoken woman brimming with confidence and joy. I am very active in my community and have a vast number of friends all over the country.
And, should your curiosity be wondering, I am straight and have an active dating life.
So, who's the fool now, for believing a bunch of junior high girls?
Ms. L., I did not send this letter to spitefully bring up the past, although I do take some delight in sharing with you how happy my life is, despite the pain I carry from so many years ago. Rather, I wanted to point out a moment you missed an opportunity to make a huge difference in a child's life, and how you still have a chance to redeem yourself.
Next time a young teen sits in your office, riddled with trouble, take a moment to examine the situation, and what you can do to correct the problem. Please put thought into your plan of action, for you really are in a position of power. It would be a shame to be so errant twice in your life.
One time in college, a history professor asked me which was worse: Being a Nazi in Germany during the Holocaust, or being someone who stood by and did nothing. I'm inclined to say some kind of guilt falls on both parties.
What do you think?