What your teachers are doing

Almost all of your public school teachers have sex. Most of them enjoy it and do it repeatedly, even.

Many of your public school teachers vote for the Democratic party. Some are conservative Republicans. Some are Communists.

Some of your public school teachers are atheists. Or Episcopalians. Or Baptists. Or Scientologists.

All of your public school teachers go home at the end of the school day and have private lives, where they do things that really aren’t at all relevant to your 8 year old daughter, your 15 year old son. That you pay taxes to cover their salaries for doing their jobs during work hours does not entitle you to control the entirety of their lives.

All of your public school teachers have a history. Almost all of them have masturbated. Many of them have smoked marijuana. Almost all of them have dated; most of them have danced. Some of them are gay. Some of them are heterosexual. Almost all of them have private kinks which you don’t know about, because they don’t practice them in public, let alone when they’re doing their jobs. Some of them have been sex workers.

And you know what? All of them can be fired or blacklisted by local prudes on school boards or the school administration. Teachers: you don’t get to be human. This outrages me.

When I was in eighth grade, one of the best teachers I ever had taught me geometry. Mr Anderson was fat; he sweated excessively. He always wore baggy slacks and a white short-sleeved shirt, and he had a crew cut. And he was ferocious. He would yell at bad students and tell them to work harder, and if he caught you being inattentive in class he’d throw an eraser at you. Those students mocked him mercilessly, behind his back. He was also passionate about the subject — I can still see him in my mind’s eye excitedly making that chalk fly across the board, talking excitedly about a proof, giggling at how cool a result was.

Every year he rewarded the best of his students with an invitation to his house for a formal party, with snacks and Nehi soda. He was single and weird, but there was no worry about impropriety — there’d be a score of us there, who would all be treated politely as adults, which was mind-blowing right there. He’d play music for us: opera and show tunes.

Show tunes. He adored Ethel Merman, and sometimes even in class he’d start humming something from his beloved musicals.

He made the adults uncomfortable, and you can guess what kinds of rumors the school jocks spread about him. The people who didn’t care that he was a fantastic, enthusiastic math teacher who taught students self-respect and to love math only saw a strange man who didn’t fit in, who was odd, who fit certain stereotypes, and who obviously could not be trusted.

So one year, poof, he was gone. Dismissed. The best damned math teacher they had, sent away on the heels of a sordid campaign of bigoted whispers.

Even now, it stirs a little outrage in me, that teachers get judged not by the quality of their work and their positive effects on their students, but how well they fit the conventions of the most closed-minded members of the community, by people, even, who despise good educations that raise kids to think independently.

Melissa Petro, the teacher who was open and unashamed of her past as a sex worker, couldn’t be more different, superficially, than a fat flamboyant math teacher. But they do share something in common: both were pilloried by an intolerant public and cowardly administrators over perfectly ordinary and human traits that just didn’t match an unrealistic expectation of teachers as bloodless mannequins of perfect propriety.