Lorie here. What you’re about to read is a cautionary tale that’s not easy for me to share. But I hope telling my story may save you or someone you love from a similar fate.
The summer before my sophomore year, I did something naive and incredibly stupid. I’d signed up for an 8-week gym class so I wouldn’t have to take P.E. during the school year—this wasn’t the stupid part. Why go to class soaked in sweat when I could earn that credit over the summer?
The stupid part involves my reaction to the gym teacher/assistant football coach, Mr. B. He was tall, blond, athletic, and fresh out of college. From day one, Mr. B paid attention to me…a lot of attention. As a shy teen who’d just gotten her braces off, I was dumbfounded. What could this gorgeous, older guy, who all the girls twittered about in the locker room, see in skinny, awkward me?
The first week of class, Mr. B singled me out by yelling at me every chance he got. “Get it moving, Luneke! Is that the best you can do?!” (Yes, Luneke was my maiden name and I caught a ton of grief for it.) Finally, after several consecutive days of this treatment, I’d had enough. “Yes!” I yelled back, “As a matter of fact, it is!” He grinned, apparently getting the reaction he’d been seeking. But my assertiveness didn’t defuse the situation. Instead, his taunts became more aggressive and personal, until one day I marched up to him—my teacher—and yelled right in his face.
I’ll never forget the admiring look he gave me in that moment, or the excitement in his eyes. For the first time in my life, I became aware of my power as a woman. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once.
I began experimenting with my newfound power by catching his eye and smiling at him across the field, or making excuses to go talk to him and standing a little too close. He’d give me his dimpled grin and I went all gooey inside. The other students noticed, because one morning a few of them asked me to talk Mr. B out of making us do our morning calisthenics routine, and it worked! Instead, Mr. B and I chatted and teased for the whole twenty minutes. Suddenly, getting up at the crack-of-dawn all summer didn’t seem so bad.
Soon, Mr. B was using any excuse to touch my arm or adjust my posture during exercises, or lean over to whisper some inane comment in my ear. My internal alarm—that intuitive spirit inside us all—began to sound. At first, it was a weak buzzing. Flirting with my young, good-looking teacher seemed harmless, not to mention, for the first time in my life, I felt wanted. Every morning his face would light up when he saw me, and I knew I made the sweltering days of never-ending gym class bearable for him too.
But when we started a swimming rotation things changed. Mr. B became almost possessive. He would walk along the side of the pool as I was swimming, and stand in front of the pool ladder when I was trying to climb out. The alarm in my head grew to a steady wail.
Then one day I got out of the pool and Mr. B wrapped a towel around my shoulders and began to dry me off. I freaked. I told him to get away and pushed at his arms, but he laughed. When I finally slipped away from him, I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall. Disgust, embarrassment and fear battled inside me. The flirtation no longer felt harmless.
The next week I became nauseous during class and ran to the girl’s locker room. Mr. B followed me. Honestly, I don’t remember the exact words of that confrontation, but I do know when he tried to make his move I shut him down and told him never to touch me again.
The taunts and touching stopped; he couldn’t even seem to meet my eyes. But I was ashamed. I worried that it was my fault for encouraging him, and enjoying his attention.
On the last day of summer school, Mr. B handed out the grade cards. When I walked up to get mine, he yanked it back and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “I wonder how you got that grade?” And then he threw the grade card at me. It was an A-.
Looking back, I now realize it was wrong of Mr. B to touch me, even though I flirted with him. As a teacher, he should have ignored the attention of a naive 15-year-old student. But I wish I'd done things differently. I wish I'd gone to the principal as soon as the first alarm bell sounded in my head.
Friends, it’s a miracle my situation didn’t result in seriously devastating consequences. But later, I heard rumors of other girls who hadn’t resisted Mr. B’s charms. Maybe if I’d stepped up and reported him, I could’ve stopped it. Maybe not. But at least I would’ve done the right thing.
How about you, honest reader? Have there been any teacher’s who were more of a negative influence than a positive one?