“After 3PM” — Preface

NOTE: This is the Preface from After 3PM, the book I’ve written about addressing the issue of unlawful teacher-student relationships. After having the book edited by someone for whom I have immense respect, I feel that I need to clarify the purpose of this book and why I am stepping forward as a voice on this issue.  It is my hope that this Forward will assist in that understanding, not just the text itself, but the footnotes as well (located at the bottom of the page).

William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Truth. So in the eyes of many, the evil I’ve done will be the lasting impression of who I am and what I do, no matter how much good I attempt. I have learned this lesson the hard way. So the fact is, some people will never be convinced that I’m not the person I was, no matter how my actions now speak to the contrary. That being said, hopefully, this Preface clarifies my goals as a writer, a speaker, and a voice. I cannot fix the pain I’ve caused; I can only hope to contribute to future preventative solutions.


Preface

The epidemic of teacher-student relationships is eating away at the bedrock of the American educational system, and it is an epidemic which is not being sufficiently addressed. Any half-effort attempts at merely acknowledging the problem are overshadowed by the numerous instances of ineffectiveness proven by the repeated news stories of the latest teacher charged with some manner of sexual misconduct with a student.

However, this book does not seek to answer the questions surrounding why certain teachers are sexual deviants. Teachers arrested for child pornography and sexual exploitation, or teachers who are arrested for abusing children in elementary school — these teachers aren’t in the same ballpark as those to which I refer. Teachers who prey on small prepubescent children, or who seek pictures and videos of these children are sick predators who deserve every single second of prison time they receive.  So I will not even attempt to pry into the demented mind of someone who is attracted to elementary-age children. That is an entirely separate pathology which I’m not sure I even want to understand.

Listen: My choices were not the fault of the school administration or a lack of training. My choices were not the fault of my universities or a lack of education. My choices were not the fault of my personal struggles or my lack of happiness.

Purpose

My aim is to provide a clear understanding of why teachers — typically high school teachers — reach a point in their own cognitive distortions when they think it is permissible to carry on an adult-like emotional and/or sexual relationship with students ranging from ages 14 to 18. In many states, there is a legal line drawn at age 13 when it comes to the severity of charges filed against a perpetrator. For example, in Kansas, sexual crimes against someone under the age of thirteen is a more severe classification than someone between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. And if a teacher has a sexual relationship with a student who is eighteen-years-old, it is still against the law, a crime classified as Unlawful Sexual Relations.[1]

There are two dominating questions regarding this issue that have not been sufficiently addressed:

“Why is this happening?”

“What can prevent this?”

I am asking these questions from a very personal and unique perspective; I was one of those teachers. In 2010, I had a brief relationship with a former student who was fifteen at the time; and in 2012, I was arrested and sent to prison for more than two years. But this book is not about me or my crime. This book is about the overall issue — I am simply bringing a new and unique perspective to the conversation.

Or, perhaps, I am attempting to start a conversation. In just a few short years, my own daughter will be entering high school. And knowing what actually goes on in high schools —  around corners, in shadows, and behind closed doors — it scares me a little that there are still teachers teaching who are conducting themselves just as I did. Actually, it scares me a lot.

Nothing justifies what these teachers — we teachers — have done. And yet, I do not seek to demonize these teachers, but to understand them. Nothing can be said to lessen the tragic and traumatic impact this sort of conduct has on students. I do not stand-up for these teachers, nor do I defend my own actions. There is no defense.

I am merely asking the simple (yet complex) question: Why?

My choices were my choices. I don’t blame anyone except me. I did not make the choices I made simply because I was never told not to what I did. I did not make the choices I made because I was a sick deviant who sought-out intimacy with an underage girl. The fact is, it took me years to understand why I made the choices I made, but in the end, I discovered I was asking the wrong question. The question I was asking was, “Why did I make the choices I made?” However, the question I should have been asking was “Why did I think the choices I made were acceptable?” At first glance, they seem to mean the same thing, but in reality, they could not be more different.

At no point to do I seek to minimize or justify my choices or behaviors.[2]  At 100% of the time, I was 100% in the wrong. So do not view my perspective as, “What could have prevented me from making these choices?” Instead, view it as, “How can the viewing of this issue change in order to prevent it from happening in the future?” I am not trying to justify how my actions could have been prevented; I am trying to change the conversation entirely, to see it differently, to perceive it differently, to address it differently, to approach it differently.

Writing this book forced me to take a very difficult journey, coming face-to-face many of my own demons. And while I am conscious of the choices I made, the terrible things I did, and the lasting impacts my choices have on others, I am also thankful for my time in prison. Prison was the jolt I needed to get my head on straight and correct my way of thinking.

The purpose of this book has very little to do with the relationship I had with my former student — it will serve as an anecdote and a narrative. My hope is to bring a depth of reality to the issue beyond the limited details released by the news media by giving deeper details and making it more “real.” Details and dialogue tend to do that. I do not include the specifics of my own experience for any purpose other than to add a depth of understanding to what a person goes through when these choices are made and these processes are put into motion. Most (if not all) of the details I recount are things for which I will always feel shame and embarrassment.

Therefore, for the purposes of these writings, the student with whom I had the relationship will be referred to as “Taissa.”[3] This is obviously not her real name, and although public court documents identify her only as “RLF,” I have decided to refrain from identifying her in this narrative by her actual name as a matter of privacy to her. This is a book about why teachers in these situations make the choices we make and what can be done within the school systems to shed light on this issue with the goal of preventing instances of teacher-student relationships in the future.

This is not a book about my crime; this is an in-depth narrative about how these situations emerge, what happens when these situations are discovered, the aftermath of these situations, and the truth about why this epidemic continues to plague the educational community.

Unfortunately, teachers and school administrators both struggle with the same problem: They have no idea what the actual problem is or how to actually fix it; they only see the result, the aftermath, and the damage.

It is time to stop merely treating the symptoms and, instead, cure the underlying disease.

Essentially, the problem is not simply that teacher and students are having inappropriate relationships. That is merely the result. The problem is much deeper, much more complex, and much more obvious than anyone wants to admit.

Every high school teacher and principal should read this book, not because everyone is at risk of having a relationship with a student; instead, everyone needs to know which battles to fight and how to fight them — which warning signs to see, and how to see them.

The time for depending on “individual responsibility” on this issue has long passed. A concerted effort by the entire faculty of every school must be put forth because there is one simple fact which teachers and principals tend to overlook: The teachers they see on the news are simply the teachers who got caught.

Perspective

This particularly unique perspective is necessary. Teachers see disgraced educators like me on television, shake their heads at our horrid choices, hear that we are going to prison, and then never hear from us again. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind. So another purpose of this book is to provide a glimpse into what happens to disgraced teachers when we aren’t the top news story anymore; sent to prison, released from prison, forced to live in the shadows of humiliation and shame. I use my own narrative experience as an eye-opening example of what happens to a teacher, both before the news story airs and after it has faded into the archives.

People see these teachers — us teachers — who have done these horrible things, featured across the many spectrums of the news and internet in the latest scandal that rocks the educational community of “Anytown, USA.” People point fingers and say things like “sick” or “horrible” or “pervert” or “pedophile” or any number of words aimed at degrading a teacher for choosing to pursue a relationship with a student. And yet, with all the social backlash and humiliation, these instances do not decrease — in fact, they are on the rise. Teachers increasingly continue to cross the lines of propriety and legality with their students.

But therein lies the crux of my philosophy: People see only what they see, and then they forget — they move on. When I was arrested and sent to prison, I was actually thankful for the fast-paced twenty-four-hour news cycle because it meant my face would be off the news and would fade into obscurity relatively quickly. I was held up for humiliation for a day or two when I was arrested, and then for a day or two when I was sentenced, and that was it. Even my former colleagues probably never give me a second thought anymore.[4]

Disgraced teachers are seen on the news, in court, and then being led off to prison, and that’s it — on to the next news story. But what happens after the cameras are off? What happens when the top story becomes old news — after the humiliation, after the sentencing, after prison? The story dies, but the person must live on — the person must pick up the pieces and try to reassemble something resembling normality, often with little (or no) success. And it has been my experience that life after the news — life after prison — has been more difficult than standing in front of a judge, surrounded by news cameras, admitting that I’d had a relationship with a fifteen-year-old former student.

This is what teachers need to see; this is what teachers need to hear. Teachers need to see what happens, not just when they are arrested, convicted, and sent to prison; teachers need to see what it’s like to re-enter the world, knowing they cannot — ever — be a teacher again. That is the reality in which I now exist.

Look at me. Look hard.

This is what a ruined life looks like.[5]


FOOTNOTES:

[1] This is the same criminal classification given to sexual crimes by prison guards, for example.

[2] I cannot emphasize this enough. The biggest struggle I’ve faced ever since I embarked on this endeavor has been the repeated accusations and mockery from people who seem to perceive this as my own grandiose way of somehow trying to justify what I did or minimize my own level of responsibility in the choices I made. But I have come to learn that those individuals will never be receptive to this message because they only want to point their fingers at offenders, not open their arms to new ideas or results. It’s “more comfortable” to point fingers than it is to open arms. Thus, if you are of the opinion that I will spend 60,000+ words trying to justify what I did, please stop reading this book. Return it to the bookstore. I hope you saved your receipt. Because in order to fully grasp my purpose, you need to think outside the box with open arms, not extended accusatory fingers. Sometimes, the bad guy knows how to solve the crime.

[3] I chose this alias simply because she is the literal doppelganger of Taissa Farmiga, known for her role in American Horror Story.

[4] Although, in the years following my release from prison, I’ve encountered several former colleagues and students, and those encounters have been overwhelmingly positive.

[5] Granted, it could be worse. Am I doing life in prison? No, I’m doing life outside of prison. The life I had (as a respected educator and valued member of society) is gone, never to be returned. The life I live now (as a convicted felon, a sex offender, and a humiliated individual) is the truth of my existence. I don’t expect anyone who has not been through this to fully understand my point here, and I hope no one ever has to either. So here’s my point: This is what a ruined life looks like, and I sincerely hope you never have to understand how or why.

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