The relationship I had with my former student was not a mistake.
Anyone who reads my writing with any semblance of regularity (and there are quite a few — thanks, by the way) knows I use more film, movie, and television references than Anthony DiNozzo. A critic once told me that perhaps the reason I reference movies so much is because I’m somehow stuck in my own fantasy world, unable to grasp reality. And honestly, that seems like a reasonable deduction. But the truth is, I just really like movies.
The Matrix is my second-favorite trilogy, second only to the Episode IV, V, & VI installments of the Star Wars trilogy of trilogies (if that’s even a thing — is there a word for a trilogy of trilogies?). The first Matrix movie was brilliant. In college, I wrote an analysis paper about how the original Matrix is an allegorical chronical of the last week in the life of Jesus Christ, as told by the Gospels. And yet, regardless of the underlying meanings I conjured and the nonstop groundbreaking action sequences, my favorite thing about the film was the way it messed with the viewers’ perception of reality — more specifically, the concept of Choice. And in 2003, when the subsequent sequels (Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions) were released, this theme of Choice continued brilliantly.
When I entered into a relationship with a former student in 2010, it was not a mistake — it was a choice. Granted, it was a wrong choice, a tragic choice, and a destructive choice, but it was a choice nonetheless. It bothers me when people attempt to console my remorse for my actions by saying “Everyone makes mistakes.” And while this sentiment may be true — and while I hold debilitating levels of regret and remorse for my actions — I don’t consider my choices to be mistakes.
As I see it, mistakes are somewhat faultless. A mistake is spilling a glass of water or turning left when confusion prompted you to turn right. Essentially, a mistake is when the word “Oops” would be contextually appropriate. Otherwise, it’s a choice.
The relationship I had with my former student was not a mistake — it was a terrible, hurtful, and destructive choice. Does this mean I’m proud of my choice? Of course not! However, I also refuse to shrink it into the cop-out of, “I made a mistake.” Perhaps I’m over analyzing it, or perhaps I’m just being too self-critical, but the spectrum of my actions exceeds a mere “mistake.”
When a person looks back upon his/her life, it is easy (and often comforting) to view the most hurtful and/or regretful choices as mistakes because it relinquishes the liability of the bad choice to that of a mere mishap, not to be repeated. Essentially, there is a huge difference between taking responsibility for a choice, and chalking something up as a mistake. As humans, I believe it is within our nature to self-soothe when life gets difficult; the subconscious mind is full of go-to coping mechanisms. But when we begin to categorize choices as mistakes, we subtly alleviate the responsibility of those choices, labeling them with an oops and moving on.
However, choices go both ways. Of course, we should seek to not make destructive choices, but at the same time, we should seek to actively make good choices. This is the nexus of why I am a writer, speaker, and activist on the topic of unlawful teacher-student relationships. As I have mentioned many times, I am not trying to change my past choices, I am trying to impact the future choices of others; I cannot undo what I’ve done, but I can be the voice of reason for someone who may be faced with the same two choices I faced; but hopefully, because of something I’ve written or said, that person will make a better choice than I did.
I really am kind of “putting myself out there” to be judged, critiqued, and ridiculed. Speaking openly about being an adult teacher who had an illegal relationship with a former student is not easy, but it’s the right thing to do. I choose to speak out against the abhorrent choices of my past because I firmly believe I can change at least one person’s mind, one person’s perspective, one person’s choice. And if I only impact one person — if I only make the difference in one teacher’s choices (and as a result, one student’s life), then all of these efforts will have been completely worth it.