I have horrid nightmares about my relationship with my former student. It’s the same nightmare every time, like a false memory that haunts me in the waking hours of my (sometimes) tortured head-space. And the thing is, the dreams have nothing to do with sex (as the cynics would likely expect). The dreams – the nightmares – are about the hours that she and I spent together in my classroom, bonding and conversing and (sometimes) flirting. And while that aspect of the dream happens to mirror fact, the fiction begins in the details of the dialogue.
In these nightmares, the classroom is always dark – it’s an eerie darkness, like a basement or a cellar – and there’s always a faint sound; like the sound of a brisk cold breeze outside of a closed window; or the sound of a match being quietly struck from behind an old matchbook as the sulfur and flame crescendo, then fade to black; or the sound of an old record player, spinning slowly with all the crackles and hisses – but no music..
I don’t ever recall the specifics of our conversation, but what I do remember is her being a completely arrogant and self-absorbed bitch (which was typically my role in the relationship, not hers – swap “bitch” for “asshole”), and how I didn’t seem to mind when she would suggest that I leave my wife (which she never asked me to do in real-life). But then – in every dream – we begin plotting a murder. We begin plotting my murder. Well, specifically, we begin plotting my suicide, but the suicide has to look like murder because apparently there’s some sort of life insurance situation where, if I kill myself, my family gets no money (which is something I think I must have seen on a TV show or something), and she is perfectly willing to help. So then, my former student (who is the literal doppelganger of Taissa Farmiga, known for her role in American Horror Story) convinces me that our plan (which never gets specific) is completely reasonable and – in every dream – I specifically remember her referring to it as “gallant” (which is a word I’m sure she’s never actually used). And this is typically when I wake up, wondering why I’ve had the dream again.
But I know exactly why I’m having this dream – Guilt. No therapist will convince me not to be plagued by the guilt of what I’ve done because I hurt on so many levels for it. From my perspective, my crime was wrong for three reasons: I cheated on my wife, I violated my profession, and “Taissa” was three months under-age. And, in my mind, that is also how I prioritize the severity of betrayal for each aspect. Of course, the hype wants to completely invert it and concentrate on the fact that she was under-age, which was – of course – a terrible act on my part, followed by the fact that I’d been her teacher at one point – the fact that I’d cheated on my wife seems like a mere afterthought in the public eye. But from my perspective (a perspective that is sure to piss-off the powers-that-be at the parole office), my violation of the law does not weigh upon me nearly as heavily as the violation of my profession, or – to a much more significant degree – the violation of the trust and sanctity of my marriage. I mean, let’s be completely honest here: I was having affairs with so many teachers at that school that if they all knew about each other, there would be more than a few verbal disagreements in the Teachers’ Lounge. So when I ended up making out with a former student, it wasn’t because I had some sort of weird attraction to high school girls or something, I was just simply out-of-control. Internet commenters (typically on news articles about me in the local media) want to point at me and assume that there was an “attraction” or something, calling me “sick” or “pervert” or “pedophile” or whatever. But they really have no idea what they’re talking about. They have no idea what’s really going on. They have no idea how many teachers are still teaching who have had multiple relationships with multiple students (and likely continue to do so) without remorse or regret. And they have no idea how much the administration actually knows about what is going on, but which never reaches the public eye or ear. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how many teachers are sleeping together, passing each other around like photo-copies of the annual syllabus.
Teacher-student relationships happen much more often than people think – or honestly, want to know. When a teacher-student relationship is discovered, there’s typically two ways the “discovery” happens. Either the parents go to the police first, and the police inform the school (and district), and the teacher is arrested (which is what happened in my case); or the parents go to the school first, and the school informs the district and the police are never contacted, as the matter is handled “internally” (which is the most common manner in which this issue is “dealt-with”). When the parents go to the police first, these are the instances that typically garner media attention. But when the school is contacted first and the police are not informed, it becomes hush-hush.
How hush-hush, might you ask? Well, it happens enough that the people in the USD 259 upper-level district administrative offices and the Human Resources department all have a “code term” for this – when another teacher is caught having a relationship with a student (most often at one of the high schools), administrators merely say amongst themselves that they “have to buy another Cadillac,” which is their casual and cryptic nomenclature for providing another “settlement” to the family of a student who had a relationship with a teacher. And let’s be honest about the situation: This isn’t a “settlement,” this is hush money – and if the police haven’t been involved in the situation, they merely write a check and everyone moves on as though nothing has happened. The teacher is sometimes “transferred” or “resigns for health reasons” or takes an “early retirement” (the “early retirement” one actually happened at East while I was teaching there), or some other excuse to keep things under wraps. The most ridiculous excuse I heard was when a “staff member” was forced to suddenly resign because of something he’d posted on Facebook – and the administration actually expected people to believe that. However, in all seriousness, if the voters knew how many high school teachers were screwing students, they’d cut funding to education faster than Sam Brownback saying NO! to ObamaCare and Syrian Refugees.
During the summer of 2012 – between my arrest and my sentencing, as my own Horror Story was beginning to take shape – I decided that someone needed to be part of the solution. I’d seen what people were saying about me online, so I figured, if I was going to be a target on the firing range, I might as well say something worth hearing. Because, as I figured (and to quote the great Wes Mantooth), “With the things I’ve done in my life, oh I know I’m going to burn in hell. So I sure as shit ain’t afraid to burn here on Earth.” So I came up with this idea that someone needed to actually stand in front of teachers and speak the truth – out-loud – about what was going on and what happens after they get caught (because I knew). I came up with a catchy name and designed a website and even made a little video to try to get someone to notice that the problem was out there and that no one was doing anything about it. And the result? I was more-or-less given the go-fuck-yourself from the educational community. Somehow, they perceived this as me (somehow) blaming the district for what I’d done. I didn’t quite follow their logic on this, but it was their way of telling me to shut-the-fuck-up because (as they see it) this problem did not need to be publicized any more than it already was. And if I was to stand up and point out how often this was happening (and I had specific examples, if someone had asked at the time), then it would have caused some major problems for the administrations and the powers-that-be; because they’ve been covering it up for so long, paying people off for so long, and keeping these dirty secrets for so long – high-level jobs would be lost; careers would be ended.
So here’s the real Horror Story: USD 259 has been “buying Cadillacs” for decades – and it’s wrong. The parents of my former student were absolutely right for going to the police rather than going to the school or the district. If a teacher is having a relationship with a student, it is a matter for the law to handle, not the Human Resources department of the school district. There are teachers at Wichita East High School who have had relationships with students, and those students have long-since graduated, so those teachers have “gotten away with it” and will never be punished. And with many (if not most) of these relationships, the school administrators knew (or at least suspected) that something was going on.
I am almost certain that the administrators at East knew about me as well (perhaps not the specifics, but they knew). As a teacher at East, I had the privilege of teaching at the high school from which I graduated, and I was extremely popular with the faculty (including the ones I wasn’t screwing) as well as the students and parents. But suddenly, one day, I walked into the principal’s office with my letter of resignation, announcing that I was taking a teaching job in a small town for less money, far away from Wichita. There was an understanding there; he knew why I was leaving and I knew why I was leaving. My wife and I made the decision months earlier after I’d confessed everything to her, and when I announced that I was leaving, I was given the old “Okay, good luck;” and that was it. I would bet my bottom dollar that he knew damn-good-and-well why I was leaving, and he was simply glad that I was moving on, not to be his problem anymore.
About a month before I was arrested and my relationship with my former student hit the news, my (former) best friend (who is now my Archenemy) and I went to the winter East High Homecoming basketball game. I strolled around and said “Hi” to some of my former co-workers, including the “Okay, good luck” principal as well as a few of the assistant principals. The head principal greeted me with a smile and happily shook my hand and asked me how I was doing – all-the-while knowing what I’d done because the police had already informed him of the allegations (and I doubt they expected me to show up on campus). I remember my exchange with him specifically, but I also remember one other exchange with one of the assistant principals very vividly. She was there in a supervisory role and when I walked up and said “Hi” to her, she didn’t seem happy to see me at all. She wasn’t rude, but if I was to describe her demeanor toward me, the term “civilly cold” would aptly cover it (and I picked up on it immediately). In previous years, during my administrative internship at the school, she was the AP with whom I’d worked the most (and who’d taught me the most) so I was very happy to see her. But when she wouldn’t even make eye-contact with me, I knew something was wrong – and on a deep level, I knew exactly what that “something” was. Somehow, I knew she knew. But here’s the thing: I respect her so much more for being cold toward me than I do the “Okay, good luck” principal for being bogus and fake and falsely happy to see me. The AP knew how she felt, and I’m certain she wasn’t at all allowed to talk to me about it (obviously), but the fact that she didn’t give me a fake sense of politeness actually makes me respect her so much more. And if she would ever speak to me again (which I doubt, understandably), I would thank her for that.
Obviously, not all teachers are having relationships with students. There really are many great teachers out there who deserve higher pay and more recognition and appreciation. Teaching is a thankless profession – financially, professionally, and publicly – so maybe there is a silver-lining to the lack of publicity of the teachers who are having relationships with students. Because honestly, when I was arrested for what I did, I didn’t just reflect poorly on myself, I made all teachers and the teaching profession look terrible – thus, I reflected poorly on some amazing educators whose only goal is to nurture and broaden the minds of the future. I will never realistically have the opportunity to ask their forgiveness, so my immediate reaction (in the summer of 2012) was to try to be a part of the solution. But obviously, that didn’t work out. And now, the only thing being done about this problem is a ten minute lecture session during the annual “Sexual Harassment Training” on an in-service day, or a half-assed presentation to future teachers at Wichita State about not being friends with students on Facebook. That’s it. Still, no one is taking the issue seriously, so it continues to perpetuate – and that is the true American Horror Story.
I’ve given up trying to be part of this solution. Personally, I’m a recovering sex addict and I’ve found my place for now, being part of a support system of people struggling with this addiction in the group context of Sex Addicts Anonymous. I regularly receive calls and text message from people in my group who are struggling, and I have embraced my role as someone who can talk people through rough times in the addiction. This is what I do well, and I’m fine with that. And in the meantime – in fact, right now, as you read this sentence – there is a teacher having a relationship with a student. And this teacher will completely get away with this and move on with his/her career, and the public will never know. And since the school principals and district administrators have no interest in finding a real solution to this problem, then the blood is on their hands. So as far as I’m concerned, a curse on both their houses.
This is a real American Horror Story. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Catholic Church.