Fuck you, Mr. Chips
April 30, 2021 6:39 AM   Subscribe

Before he was Philip Roth’s biographer, Blake Bailey taught the eighth grade. His students say he made them feel special. They worshipped him. They trusted him. He used it all against them. [Content Warning: Mentions of rape, sexual manipulation]
posted by chinese_fashion (83 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had a teacher like this in high school - best, most influential teacher I’ve had. I could have been one of the boys in this story.
posted by chinese_fashion at 6:40 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Ew, holy crap. I'd suggest some content warnings on this post - there's some pretty gross sexual manipulation in here, as well as discussions of rape. (Not criticizing you, chinese_fashion - it just caught me off guard.)

Of course, it should not surprise anyone that this guy is a scumbag of the highest order.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:54 AM on April 30 [5 favorites]


Previously, recently

A withering summary: The Dark Manipulative Life of Blake Bailey
posted by chavenet at 6:55 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]


Eve Crawford Peyton's essay published alongside this one is worth reading too but with a strong content warning for grooming and sexual assault.
posted by gladly at 6:55 AM on April 30 [16 favorites]


Stories like this are why I instinctively distrust anyone with charisma.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:00 AM on April 30 [55 favorites]


I haven't read the primary piece, but I did read Peyton's essay, and it's horrific and heartbreaking beyond words to see how she struggles with what he meant to her as a teacher, how hard it was to disentangle her pride and sense of self from childhood memories that had been so corrupted, tainted from the start.

there is something so particularly grotesque and upsetting about a teacher doing this and using this kind of relationship to do it.
posted by Kybard at 7:02 AM on April 30 [11 favorites]


Be forewarned though, this is an exceptionally difficult read.
posted by hilberseimer at 7:09 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


Horrific story aside, I gotta say I love your post title.
posted by JanetLand at 7:13 AM on April 30 [16 favorites]




A special loathsomeness in someone who uses old canon quotes to tell a target how special they are, how so much more. In the bottom of each of these creatures, there is something still adolescent. They are like undead high schoolers themselves.

And yet how many talented students truly need this? Every one. I had a high school teacher that inspired through this combination of personal acquaintance, vulgarity, and toughness. I hope to God he's as safe a person as I assumed he was --
posted by Countess Elena at 7:25 AM on April 30 [10 favorites]


My rule of thumb: any teacher who gives themselves a little nickname for students to call them by is at least some degree of trouble.

You don’t have to be charismatic or push especially hard for students to place themselves in your hands — they do it unwittingly. As a teacher, I work hard to make myself into a distant, steady figure about whom they think as little as possible. I’m just the administrator of a classroom in which they are doing the learning and the work and making the discoveries.

At the end of this last quarter I had a student say “I just want to thank you for the chance to read [assigned book] because it’s amazing” and she went on about the qualities of the book. That was perfect! I didn’t perform some magic trick in making the book seem amazing — it was (Purple Hibiscus, by the way). If she had spent any time praising me, I’d have to recalibrate, because I’m not the point, and any attention on me is going where it shouldn’t.

In its small way (as opposed to the big and horrible instances of sexual manipulation and, later, rape), this turned my stomach the most:

One morning in November, the teacher started crying in front of the whole class, telling his students that kids from fifth and sixth period had written mean stuff about him in their journals.
posted by argybarg at 7:47 AM on April 30 [68 favorites]


So gross and sleazy - made me want to take a shower after reading. And yet the truth is, I would without a doubt have fallen for it if he were my teacher at at that age. I would absolutely have fallen for that intoxicating feeling of being SEEN and not treated as a child. I guess we should be grateful that he never tried anything physically with them while they were underage - although if he had, all of this would probably have come out way sooner.

My daughters are 15 and we have had several conversations about grooming. I'm debating whether to send them this article - might be a bit much for them. But this piece will stay with me for a long time - thank you for sharing, chinese_fashion. I also commend your title, which was the main reason I clicked on the article to begin with!
posted by widdershins at 7:49 AM on April 30 [15 favorites]


And Countess Elena, I do not agree that students need charismatic teachers. I think students need teachers who make them feel charismatic and valuable to themselves and their peers, bring out good work and appreciation for it, and connect to what they’re learning in a deep way. But the teacher may be nearly invisible. That would be ideal.
posted by argybarg at 7:50 AM on April 30 [14 favorites]


Teachers who position themselves as the cool teacher by high beaming grown-up charisma at adoring kids are usually pretty suspect to these eyes.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:09 AM on April 30 [18 favorites]


Yeah, my mom was a high-school teacher, and she was super, super suspicious of charismatic, boundary-pushing teachers with a cult of personality surrounding them. I remember she really hated Dead Poets Society, because she said that in real life, that guy is usually bad news. I don't even think she was talking about being a sexual predator, although maybe she was and I didn't pick up on it. And it occurs to me that pop culture is obsessed with charismatic, iconoclastic teachers who break all the rules and change students' lives. And maybe we need to rethink that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:10 AM on April 30 [77 favorites]


"These relationships—between highly educated, intelligent adults—continued long after the supposed assaults occurred, and they are not the type of friendships that anyone would have with someone who raped or abused them"

Send the attorney to hell, too.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:15 AM on April 30 [16 favorites]


Oh, I hate Dead Poets Society. If you can’t find a way to liberate students without making you the hero, you’re making things worse.
posted by argybarg at 8:17 AM on April 30 [15 favorites]


Fair, fair. I honestly never thought about it that way.

Although, to be honest, it took me about five minutes after high school graduation to completely lose interest in the personal lives of high schoolers, and I wondered sometimes how teachers could really get down on their level and be fascinated with them. I have always believed it was a gift of empathy and patience, but we can see how Bailey used it in the journals.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:17 AM on April 30 [5 favorites]


In school, we give teachers rules. They shouldn’t be alone with a student in a room with the door closed, for instance. So the teacher has been told but sometimes the students haven’t, and so they don’t know when a teacher is breaking rules.

Traditionally in schools we haven’t taught children about the constellation of grooming behaviors. Sometimes kids will need adult advice about their social lives, but sometimes personal conversations are part of a pattern. When a teacher asks a student about their romantic life and tells them they’re pretty/handsome and also follows them on social media and ALSO engages in shoulder touching and asks them to the movies and offers rides home, it’s a big problem. And kids, when they’re old enough, need to be told, maybe even in health class, that when those behaviors are happening all together, it can form an inappropriate, manipulative pattern.
posted by pickles_have_souls at 8:20 AM on April 30 [17 favorites]


Oh, I hate Dead Poets Society. If you can’t find a way to liberate students without making you the hero, you’re making things worse.
posted by argybarg


And yet charismatic teachers are rewarded in so many ways, and those who decenter the classroom often meet with resistance.
posted by craniac at 8:27 AM on April 30 [5 favorites]


I wondered sometimes how teachers could really get down on their level and be fascinated with them.

It took me years of teaching to learn that not only is this fascination unnecessary, it’s actually gross and intrusive. Teacher, leave those kids alone!
posted by argybarg at 8:28 AM on April 30 [14 favorites]


I had a Cool Prof at university. Thought he was great! Went out for group drinks with him a couple of times. After I graduated I learned that he was one of Those Guys, who dated and discarded a different female student every semester, including a friend of a friend he treated like garbage once he was done with her.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:39 AM on April 30 [10 favorites]


And it occurs to me that pop culture is obsessed with charismatic, iconoclastic teachers who break all the rules and change students' lives. And maybe we need to rethink that.

when I think of the high school age teacher who genuinely made a difference to my life and its trajectory, what immediately comes to mind is one thing. He got out of my way. He figured out early on that I had a particular passion for stuff in the realm of literature and cinema and made it clear to me that I was free to "do my own thing" (it was the early 70s) when it came to assignments. If I wanted to write a short story or a screenplay instead of delivering a thousand rote words about To Kill A Mockingbird blah-blah-blah, he was all for it.

But it never got remotely personal. I don't remember ever even meeting with him one-on-one after hours. We'd talk a bit after class every now and then, but that would only be for a few minutes -- enough time to exchange quick notes on the latest Academy Awards nominations (he's the one who put it in my head that the best movie doesn't just never win, it usually doesn't even get nominated). Looking back on it now, it probably ranks as my first proper professional relationship with somebody.

Which now that I think of it, is exactly what the model for student-teacher relationships should be.
posted by philip-random at 8:40 AM on April 30 [37 favorites]


Although, to be honest, it took me about five minutes after high school graduation to completely lose interest in the personal lives of high schoolers, and I wondered sometimes how teachers could really get down on their level and be fascinated with them.

I mean, what Bailey did was essentially a long-con. It's not like he decided to teach middle school and then realized he wanted to groom middle schoolers for nefarious purposes after he got the job. He got the job because he wanted to groom middle schoolers; the grooming was the entree, the teaching was the side dish. He'd been hoping and planning for this all along, and his contrite, remorseless email to the student he raped when she was 22 was a PR move, not a move to preserve a relationship or express legit remorse. If he cared to preserve the relationship due to actual caring, he would never have groomed and raped her to begin with.
posted by erattacorrige at 8:42 AM on April 30 [14 favorites]


To be fair, good teachers would make boring subjects for movies. There’s a lot of invisible grind to the profession that is where the action is.
posted by argybarg at 8:45 AM on April 30 [11 favorites]


I did have a great high school English teacher who was thoughtful and whose praise of my classwork meant the world to me, but he would no more have insisted that his students keep personal journals that he would read, or write chatty faux-teen messages in the margins, than he would have yelled "Shazam!" and turned into Captain Marvel. That whole thing of Bailey's just creeps me the fuck out, and I hope that it gets used as a big red warning sign to parents in the future.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:46 AM on April 30 [11 favorites]


Now that I think about it, the "cool" teacher I had in high school, brilliant in math, a musician and hippie, socialized with his students outside of class, but always with his wife. She was even cooler.
posted by Miss Cellania at 8:58 AM on April 30 [11 favorites]


Not to grind the same axe all the time, but color me shocked that a man that excels at separating the art from the (misogynistic) artist is a predator and boundary-defiler himself! Wow.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:05 AM on April 30 [11 favorites]


To the teenage Katie, Mr. Bailey felt strangely like a peer. When the class read The Catcher in the Rye, he made it clear that he identified with the adolescent Holden Caulfield, legendary hater of phonies.

Of course he fucking did.

Ugh. This is bringing up memories of the charming teacher who flirted and toyed with my best friend and me all through 11th grade, playing us off of each other and irreparably harming a decade-long friendship. He ended up 'choosing' me and we had a single confusing sexual encounter in his grim little apartment. Afterward, it was as if I didn't even exist to him.

He was a very popular teacher. He joked with the kids, often in an off-color way. A lot of classroom time was used for off-topic conversation and he would give us his advice on relationships. In his office, he had a love letter from a girl taped in the window for everyone to see (it contained the lyrics to Olivia Newton John's 'I Honestly Love You'). Later, I learned he'd gotten a student pregnant a couple of years before he slimed his way into my head.

BRB must shower now
posted by LindsayIrene at 9:06 AM on April 30 [36 favorites]


How do you warn children about people like this?

How do you get an 8th grader--who feels seen for the first time, and respected for the first time, and alight from the attention--to make sense of what's actually happening?

How do you explain, "No, he doesn't think you're special, he's just using you," in a way that a child in that scenario would be able to hear?
posted by meese at 9:23 AM on April 30 [25 favorites]


I’m sorry that happened to you, LindsayIrene.
posted by argybarg at 9:24 AM on April 30 [17 favorites]


meese, I think about that all the damn time.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:25 AM on April 30


How do you warn children about people like this? How do you get an 8th grader--who feels seen for the first time, and respected for the first time, and alight from the attention--to make sense of what's actually happening?
How do you explain, "No, he doesn't think you're special, he's just using you," in a way that a child in that scenario would be able to hear?

There are probably lots of ways. Paying attention to what your child pays attention to is a huge one. Meeting these people and vetting them for yourself is another. Not simply inherently trusting adults with your kids is a start. I don't inherently trust all adults that I myself expose myself to; why should I not also vet the adults who are around my children?
(*I don't have any children. I was groomed and sexually abused by an adult as a child and I think about all the red flags my parents ignored or the simple lack of interest or concern for the adults around me my parents displayed. I feel it is a failure of parenting, the school system/community, and doesn't just rest in the hands of the perpetrators.)
posted by erattacorrige at 9:32 AM on April 30 [6 favorites]


I think it would have to start with parents modeling a good and appropriate relationship between adult and child. I think when children see that their parents are supportive and provide a good home life, but are also autonomous beings with solid lives of their own and not in some way dependent on their children for approval, they are probably less likely to find these "charismatic" figures appealing.

I grew up in a household with horrendous emotional boundaries and parents who not only desperately needed my approval and affection but fought each other for it. Not surprisingly I had a pretty damaging run-in with a 5th and 6th grade teacher who engineered social relationships, gave the "cool" students gifts and took them on skiing vacations, gave himself a nickname and a caricature, wrote back in students' personal journal … the works. I was a massive sucker for this because, subconsciously, I was catering to his need for approval from his students. I was trained for that by my home life.

So, for a start, don't train your children for that.
posted by argybarg at 9:36 AM on April 30 [20 favorites]


This is heartbreaking. This guy seems like the same guy as my graduate advisor. It was creepy and he had so much power. He ended up divorcing his wife of 35 years, marrying a graduate student 30 years younger than him after having had an affair while he was married to another graduate student. This is what I know about for sure. The grad student he married ended up leaving him for a man who was 30 years older than her. What a shit show. Men like this should be prosecuted.
posted by bluesky43 at 9:52 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]


I remember she really hated Dead Poets Society, because she said that in real life, that guy is usually bad news. I don't even think she was talking about being a sexual predator, although maybe she was and I didn't pick up on it. And it occurs to me that pop culture is obsessed with charismatic, iconoclastic teachers who break all the rules and change students' lives. And maybe we need to rethink that.

I think that there are different forms of charismatic or iconoclastic teachers. I had a grade 7 teacher who - in some ways - was iconoclastic and approachable. She was a Sherlock Holmes fan and got us reading that, and a Trekkie who would unabashedly talk about Star Trek in class.

But she also never treated us as anything other that what we were: kids. She made friends with my mom, not me - and met up with me and my mom at a local Star Trek convention. I needed a teacher who could be odd and have us read alternative stuff - because I was odd, a bit ostracised, and also lazy and needed to be pushed (she would tell me, "you can do better"). But that teacher had healthy boundaries.

I also went to an alterative school where all of the teachers were less formal than at other schools - they used first names, would talk to students about art or literature, go out for coffee with people. I think this worked because we were older (minimum age 15, average age more like 18-20), and also because our teachers acted like mentors, not equals. My memory of my English teacher, Harriet, was of someone that was like an older aunt, not trying to be my friend.
posted by jb at 10:01 AM on April 30 [24 favorites]


> "No, he doesn't think you're special, he's just using you"

I read this scenario as "He thinks you're special because he's attracted to you and because he thinks you're easy to manipulate". It separates the teaching-lesson problem into two components that are both critical for children. Tackling the upsides and downsides of being attractive to people is an essential lesson, because it helps them anchor their feelings of being seen and respected to something more concrete than the predator's attention alone. Sexual predation can thrive on the void left behind when parents don't discuss — or worse, demonize — the upsides of feeling attractive, of attracting others, etc. Everyone is told not to take candy from strangers, but many parents never advance the lesson plan to sexual predators and emotional vampires and grifters and scammers. There are many forms of predation, and they all center around "create feeling X, predictable reaction Y". Sometimes the feeling is X = Attraction, Y = Raped; sometimes it's X = Fear, Y = Scammed; sometimes it's X = Outrage, Y = Trolled, and so on.

"It's okay that you enjoy their attention, but we're going to teach you to form your own judgements about whether people are taking advantage of you. We're scared and you're not and that's fine, but we promise never to punish you for what you think and do around them, as long as you tell us stories and let us ask questions to understand how you're thinking and feeling about them."

Teaching a child how to detect manipulation is going to make it much harder for the parent to manipulate them without their awareness. Use their realization to show them what grown-up manipulation looks like: how you negotiate what night to have a dinner date with your spouse, how you work with the doctor's office to find a time that works best for both of you, how you try to pressure your friends to be better to themselves. Start to use those same techniques with the child, and openly explain that you're doing so. "I'm only going to go to the park with you if you agree to hang out with me, or otherwise I'm going to vacuum and do laundry" is a meaningful and serious choice to a child, and if they make a childish decision and regret it, they'll be closer to understanding how their own choices affect their own happiness.

These are lessons I wish I'd been more clearly taught by the adults who raised me. I learned them piecemeal and over time on my own. Then, one time in my mid-20s, I stopped someone from manipulating me into sex when I was so exhausted I couldn't think straight. It took me nearly a day to figure out why I'd pushed them away, and it was because I felt manipulated and out of control. Somehow, all of those piecemeal lessons came together and I was able to get them out the door and lock it behind them, before they got what they wanted from me. No one ever taught me about sexual predators, I learned all about that on my own from the Internet — but every adult in my family taught me about predation and manipulation in cults. It was just enough.
posted by Callisto Prime at 10:10 AM on April 30 [20 favorites]


Mentioned it up top, but: my favorite, most influential teacher from high school turned out to be a dude like this. I never saw it directly, he had such a spell over gifted visual art students. He treated me and every other student like an adult, got us into classic literature and gave me (and many others) the groundwork for a life as an artist.

And, as it turns out, had sexual relationships with at least one of my female peers that I am aware of, god knows how many more. It never occurred to me - or any of us - that he didn’t seem to have many adult friends, or why he would have so much time to spend with us. Or that his wife lived on the opposite coast and we never met her.

We just ate it up, and a lot of us thrived and blossomed from the attention. A girl I knew back then told me “if you were a girl of a certain bent, he was the closest thing our town had to Indiana Jones.”

And now, knowing what I know as an adult ... it’s just so stained. I genuinely loved that guy and thought it was reciprocated. And hell, maybe it was.

A girl (now woman, we are in our 40s) I was friends with from that time - a mutual friend of the preyed-upon student - told me that my experience with him was mine, and valid - and that just because he was bad for someone else doesn’t mean he wasn’t good for me.

I know that she meant that in order to help me make sense of this, and meant it to be reassuring. But I read a story like this, and it’s so gut-wrenching. And to know that it was going on right next to me, the whole time, by someone who helped me cultivate the things I like about myself ...

That’s why I titled the post what I did.

I was inspired to become an art educator by this guy, studied it in college and went for it for a while. But was really turned off by all the scrutiny and suspicion given male teachers at public schools. Guys like this really shit in the bath water for everyone and I can’t say I don’t understand where that scrutiny comes from.
posted by chinese_fashion at 10:11 AM on April 30 [31 favorites]


I guess I also am feeling defensive for Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets Society - because I did idolize the character, and also because I had some horrible, seriously terrible by-the-book but-don't-enjoy-the-book English teachers before I went to the alternative school.* In his defense, i don't recall that he encourages the club or the drinking or anything other than the play - which he thought the student had permission to be in. And the end of the film is complicated: his character loses his job because of the perception that he had "corrupted" the students, though he didn't do anything inappropriate.

There are good teachers who bring passion, originality and a personal touch and can help children and teens blossom in a healthy way. But it is a position which can be ripe for abuse.

*I was given a 9/25 on a major Grade 12 English essay because I didn't perfectly fit into one of the 6 assigned topics, though I wrote on the assigned text and did extra research at the municipal research library. I left that school with a 60s average in English, and then received 80s-90s at the more academically tough alternative school.
posted by jb at 10:12 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


That’s quite the false dilemma there, jb. I had a high school U.S. History teacher who was quite dry and cordial with students, never “performed” in his lectures or was directly motivational, but gave me an astounding foundation in history for which I am forever grateful. He also gave clarity and latitude in his assignments, which were well-designed.
posted by argybarg at 10:19 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]


>As a teacher, I work hard to make myself into a distant, steady figure about whom they think as little as possible. […] If she had spent any time praising me, I’d have to recalibrate, because I’m not the point, and any attention on me is going where it shouldn’t.

argybarg, I hope you will accept some praise or at least thanks for your approach and thoughtfulness, from someone who was never in your class. Your first comment in this thread made me burst into tears for an adolescence that could and should have been.

I was a kid with a tumultuous home life who would have benefited so much from such arm’s-length steadiness. In retrospect, there were a few grownups in school and elsewhere who provided a bit of that—they’re the ones I value most now. Their very strength—not needing and in fact actively avoiding the inappropriate chummy/idolizing attention of the children in their care—meant that they weren’t seeking me out, that I’d have to go find them. But they were too few and were really elbowed out by the Baileys* in my world, the many charismatic teachers & other grownups who wanted to be my mentor or my pal and who then groomed and abused me in turn. (*Every damn one of whom pushed Catcher in the Rye at me, I’m less and less surprised to realize.)

Anyway: good on you, argybarg.
posted by miles per flower at 10:27 AM on April 30 [16 favorites]


argybarg: I don't mean to set up a false dilemma - and I have to say that my favourite teachers also weren't "performers" - but they were more flexibly minded than teachers I struggled with. They would, for example, suggest that I read a different (usually more difficult book) if I couldn't relate to the assigned one, or allow me to work on my own when no one else wanted to work with me. I wasn't an easy kid - I was nerdy, aggressive and touchy, and a lazy kid in a class of achievers.

I think I am pushing back against the other dichotomy that iconoclastic = dangerous for a teacher. Another teacher who I adored in Grade 6 & 7 was a complete iconoclast - she ran the drama club, wore strange sweaters, had us playing camp-style trust and laughing games. But at the same age that Bailey was encouraging his kids to write about their dating and sex lives, she encouraged us to create story-dances of songs from Cats. Iconoclasm can happen in an age-appropriate way.

The previous teacher I mentioned - the Sherlock Holmes/Trekkie fan - did seek me out because she was my homeroom teacher and knew that I was ostracised/bullied in that class. But again, she did so appropriately, e.g. inviting me to attend a Star Trek convention with my mom. Sometimes teachers do need to talk to their students about their personal lives - they are mandatory reporters and need to investigate if they think a child is being abused, but it's how they do so that matters.
posted by jb at 10:37 AM on April 30 [7 favorites]


Ugh, everything in this article is so fucking gross.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:48 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Also, this reminds me of a young woman I met when I was in grad school, who had MARRIRED her former middle school English teacher (who was roughly 20 years older than her, if not more). I can't help but wonder what kind of creepiness led up to that.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:51 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]


I was fucked by a teacher when I was 12, and he was just convicted

a) i think that teachers who fuck their students, think that there is a kind of teaching that occurs--that the desire to disrupt conventional teaching practices encourages an erasure of other boundaries.
b) In this capacity, thinking of everyone as a villain is too simple--and makes the ambivalent of the lesson difficult. I think this is the real taboo--that there is a set of behaviours that appear to be respecting a kids autonomy, but which refuses to think of them as a kid. Respecting a kid's autonomy, one concentrates on the first half more than the second half. That respecting means that you are always the adult, that no matter one wants, that one is never going to be 17 again, and you don't invade kids personal lives, esp. sexually. I think pretty deeply, that friends across generations are a pretty good idea, but one of the consquences of being older, is to intergrate the experience that you have, to not be vampiric.
c) I think that for adolescents, who cannot quite figure out or separate desire, they do want to fuck their teachers. I knew I did. I thought also, that that was a forbidden desire, which could never be expressed, but I suspect that the teacher knew what I wanted, and exploited that not knowing. Part of being an adult is knowing when something is a bad idea, and not pushing that idea forward.
One of the things that I keep thinking about the trial, that has shifted in the last few months, is that I am less and less confused about what I wanted at 12, that regardless of what I wanted at 12, I wasn't in a position to say yes to what which I desired; and that the person who was supposed to keep me safe from my wantings, stole them from me, under the auspices of good instruction.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:54 AM on April 30 [57 favorites]


This kind of boundary-setting came up in a discussion I had with a graduate student several years ago, and I told them that you can be friendly with students, but not friends.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:31 AM on April 30 [12 favorites]


pop culture is obsessed with charismatic, iconoclastic teachers who break all the rules and change students' lives. And maybe we need to rethink that.

Note this only applies to teachers who are men in pop culture. Woman teachers rarely get depicted this way.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:08 PM on April 30 [15 favorites]


Charisma is extremely powerful, and power is usually exploited/ exploitative.
posted by theora55 at 12:29 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


I don’t want to invalidate the experience of anyone who’s been traumatized here. But I can’t get behind the belief that there is one best way to be a teacher. Maybe it’s fine to be charismatic, or dry and dull, or distant, or close. Different kids respond to different things and the alchemy of personalities is difficult to predict or measure.

Just don’t fuck the kids, or lay the groundwork to fuck them when they’re adults.

There are so, so many people on this earth, the overwhelming majority of whom you will never, ever fuck. All you have to do is include anyone you’ve ever met in your classroom in that category and stand on the desk all you want.
posted by chinese_fashion at 12:44 PM on April 30 [13 favorites]


Miles per flower: man, now I have to live up to that. Thank you.

jb: I do teach in very non-standard ways. Lots of projects and creativity, and lot of flexibility and choice for the students. I just don’t want to make myself the focus.

chinese fashion: There are more forms of manipulation, and more degrees of harm, than just fuck/don’t fuck.
posted by argybarg at 12:50 PM on April 30 [5 favorites]


Harper’s recently had a review by Joshua Cohen of Bailey’s new now unpublished biography of Philip Roth. It was written from the point of view of Roth reviewing his biographer. It wasn’t very nice. PseudoRoth accuses the biographer of not caring at all about what he has written, but instead caring more about sexual improprieties, how much dinner costs, and writing himself into the biography. The subtext of this review seems to support this new outline of Bailey’s personality and actions. Kind of ironic that a new book gets seriously panned and then justifiably yanked out of publication due to the author’s arch creepiness.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:28 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Also, this reminds me of a young woman I met when I was in grad school, who had MARRIED her former middle school English teacher (who was roughly 20 years older than her, if not more). I can't help but wonder what kind of creepiness led up to that.

Really gross creepiness, I'll bet. I had a front row seat on this kind of scenario when my own best friend got involved with one of our middle school teachers and ended up running off with him a week after her 18th birthday. Their relationship started when she went to him to confide that her father had been sexually abusing her since she was eight. Twenty years later I ran into her and she was maintaining exactly the same look she had when she was thirteen, right down to the snoopy sweater and the Alice band, in order to keep hubby interested. The last I heard, he had left her for a very young undergrad at the college he now teaches at (after getting banned from the public school situation for sleeping with a student).

I also went to a very progressive school, where teachers spending time with kids on extracurricular activities and supporting our creativity was not unusual, and some of those relationships were incredibly valuable. But, as someone above pointed out, the ones who weren't creepy always maintained boundaries, involved their spouses/partners and the students' parents in things, and treated the students as kids.
posted by rpfields at 1:39 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


I had a front row seat on this kind of scenario when my own best friend got involved with one of our middle school teachers and ended up running off with him a week after her 18th birthday.

Honestly are we going to pretend there isn't one at every school?

Has anyone read Three Women by Lisa Taddeo? Honestly every girl I know who read this novelized version of true events could recognize the teacher/groomer figure. There is one in every school.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:45 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


Honestly are we going to pretend there isn't one at every school?

I developed breasts really early on (around 10 years old, maybe 11). there was this teacher, in middle school, who was known as a huge creep, he wasn't my teacher thankfully, but when the SOL tests were being done we got shuffled around, and he was doing test prep for our class. He used to get close to the students in a way similarly described in the article, but not quite. He'd put one arm on the desk next to you, and his hand on your back. He would rub my bra band over my shirt. there was this weird kind of competition between the more sexually "advanced" girls in my group about who was harassed more, both here and in general.

In highschool, we had a large marching band that warranted bringing in other staff that didn't teach at our school, but taught at other schools without marching programs and wanted to be part of it. The color guard coach and the woodwinds coach were married. He was arrested midway through my 2nd year for having sexual relations with a student at the school that he actually taught at.

The orchestra teacher, years before I started at high school, married one of his students. Everyone said it wasn't creepy because she was also an orchestral major, and they waited until she graduated university.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:33 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]


My wife is a teacher and every month she get's a magazine from the regulatory body and it always has a section on disciplinary proceedings. The section is pretty much male teachers losing their licenses for either sexually assaulting students or at the very least acting very inappropriately towards them. It's a big province with a lot of teachers but still, there are a lot of these creeps out there that need to stop working with children.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:48 PM on April 30 [7 favorites]


I never found out about the teacher at my high school who showed up with one of my classmates as her escort to the homecoming dance. Like, I was in his English class, but I just remember being so stunned I couldn't speak when they arrived (I was working the registration table), and I remember her being a bit nervous, because everyone was finding out that there was some kind of relationship. But he continued to teach through the year, and I never heard anything about a scandal, but it was also the late '70s, and so basically the freaking Wild West when it came to mores.

I had very special, very close relationships with two teachers, both of whom were the first adults who'd ever really shown me that I might be a person with any kind of value, something I wasn't getting at home. Neither of them were creeps or ever did anything untoward, but I do remember the cognitive dissonance over the teacher who was dating one of my classmates when comparing that to my relationship with one of my teacher friends in particular, who I often visited at lunch hour to talk about books and travel. I even asked him about it at one point, but I can't recall his answer, just that he got obviously angry in a way that evidenced he was trying to swallow the anger and keep it from me.

I'd never even heard of this Blake Bailey guy before the FPP of the other day, but my own interests would never lead me in that direction because Roth is garbage I couldn't care less about. But this article definitely made me think of my skeazy teacher dating my classmate, and reminded me of my other teachers, and how today, those relationships would never have been allowed to happen.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:50 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]


Mod note: I deleted a couple comments responding to a deleted comment. I want to affirm that sexual assault happens far more often to women in general, and to girls and women in educational settings in particular. However, when it comes to teacher sexual abuse specifically, approximately 1/3 of teacher sex abuse claims in grades 6-12 in the US involve female teachers. Statistics on student victims are messier because of reporting bias, but estimates when I was on school board are that around 11% of girls are assaulted by their teachers and around 8% of boys. This isn't the right place for "but what about the men?" nonsense meant to silence women and girls or minimize the crimes of men, but boys and men who had experiences of teacher sexual abuse won't be silenced, because their experiences are real too. Dressed to Kill, I'm e-mailing you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:03 PM on April 30 [28 favorites]


This was a hard read. I do think (nearly) every school hs a predator like this, although not normally getting national litterary attention. One of my wife's band teachers got fired for one relationship and then married another former student. I know more than one issue from my high school...
posted by CostcoCultist at 3:14 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


I don't know how many people here speak Polish, but this reminded me of cartoonist and YouTuber Kasia Babis' recent Polish-language video essay about another "cool" teacher, specifically inspired by his self-published autobiography (which sounds pretty terrible, and about 25% plagiarized internet anecdotes) and responses to it by former students, one of whom is interviewed in the second half of the video.

No sexual misconduct has been alleged (although given this guy's creepy views about physical contact, I wouldn't be at all surprised), but there is a disturbing pattern of emotional manipulation, a cult of personality, pressuring children (and their parents!) into going along with cultish group activities like surprise field trips, etc.. All of which he proudly relates in his book as evidence of his pedagogical genius, apparently with zero self-awareness.
posted by confluency at 3:40 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]


There was one of these teachers in my high school. Psychology teacher, his class was a lot of fun. He wanted you to call him by his first name, he told racy stories. He married the prettiest girl in our year when she turned 18 and left the school. Curiously, he was from Amarillo and used to tell stories about Stanley Marsh, the billionaire child raper.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:42 PM on April 30


I read this article earlier today and it brought back so many memories of how men treated me as a teenager. I felt like prey, constantly. I actually thought Ms. Peyton's first-person piece on being raped by Bailey (also on Slate) was more grueling (and poignant) to read. Realizing your "mentor" just wants to get in your pants is a horrible realization as a woman. As a woman, you have no value except as a jail bait petit-four for some creep.
posted by Word_Salad at 4:02 PM on April 30 [8 favorites]


This story brought back memories of a teacher who abused one of my high school friends years ago. He wasn’t even the only predator at my high school at that moment in time.
posted by Ptrin at 6:43 PM on April 30


This got me thinking about my high school teachers (soooo long ago). I went to a very small suburban high school where everyone literally knew everyone, and the best teachers -- or at least those who had the most impact on me -- were the "good" kind of teacher. I only came close to being friends with one, my band instructor, and I don't think he was weird with anyone. There was one very charismatic instructor who, I learned years later was predatory toward girls. In retrospect it wasn't surprising, but I had no idea at the time (as a male, I wasn't in the demographic, so to speak).
posted by lhauser at 7:23 PM on April 30


shout out to those with high school teacher mentors who later expressed ~other~ feelings, especially those people who are maybe still processing that mindfuck to their sense of self years later!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:55 PM on April 30


I had a high school teacher who was SO crucial to my development as a person -- and now that I'm talking about it, I'm trying to think of why, exactly -- I had a happy and supportive homelife, my talents were nurtured both at home and at school, I had and have a large extended family that supports me even if they don't "get" me. For me, he wasn't The One Guy who recognized my otherwise-overlooked genius -- he didn't even teach in a subject I was any good at, or cared to be good at!

With the benefit of adult hindsight, I think that if we had met at any point in our lives, we would have been good friends. But with the benefit of adult hindsight, what was SO crucial about that student-teacher relationship (which he always kept very clear boundaries around, and my mother still sometimes runs into his wife at Target and they enthusiastically chat) was that he was a goddamned adult. Like, the appeal of it was that he was a grown-up who wasn't caught in the horror movie plot of high school. He had no desire to be popular; he wanted to be a good teacher who made a difference in kids' lives. If that meant he was well-liked, fine, but that was not the GOAL of his teaching. He actively avoided and rejected students' attempts to engage him in the horror show of high school popularity contests. He understood my drama because he had BEEN a high school student, but he had an adult perspective on it that it would pass and it was not a big deal in the grand scheme of life.

The teachers I knew as "creepy" at my high school (including one that ended in a spectacular triple murder about two years back; 20 years after the kid graduated, but he never got past it) -- and Bailey in this article -- were and are VERY interested in being "popular." They're not adults; they are, and want to be judged as, teenagers. The teachers who were mentors were interested in teenagers as human beings, and liked them; but they didn't want to BE them. The teachers who were creepers wanted to BE them. Their favorite book was Catcher in the Rye. They related to teenaged students not as children, but as peers. They identified with their struggles not as something they went through in the past, but as something they were engaged in right now.

And while it's a good red flag, it isn't a great red flag, I don't think. I spent five years on a school board, which included reviewing complaints about abusive teachers -- every single one in our district. Based on what I saw in Illinois, for every 5,000 students, you're looking at one substantiated teacher sexual abuse claim per year per 5,000 students. (Or one per every 2000 employees, if you'd rather.) If your high school has 800 students in its graduating class, you're going to be turning up one criminal sexual predator who gets charged with a crime every four years. But those are the REALLY BAD claims that can be substantiated. There are also a lot of abuse claims that either don't have substantiated documentation, or are next-door-to-criminal-abuse claims that can't be substantiated but are definitely very gross. Take whatever you think the priest sexual abuse scandal rate is, and triple it. You're still not in the ballpark, but at least you're looking for the second baseman.

So a huge part of me is like, these creepy dudes, the ones who think they're still high school students, the ones who want to get in with "the popular kids," the ones who think life is Dead Poets' Society, those are the creepy ones to watch out for. And that's not wrong! My gut has good sense! But I also spent a lot of time reading abuse complaints about teachers that had no warning signs. And that is what chills me to the bone. Bailey seems like a findable predator, using traditional grooming techniques and displaying social superiority techniques that school supervisors should identify and eliminate. But a lot of Bailey's predator peers are NOT findable. A lot of them are more cold-blooded, more harsh, more targeted, than Bailey is or could be. There are a couple of cases I had to read, in order to fire the teacher after they'd already been picked up by the FBI, that make my blood run cold even now -- I have no idea how you'd identify this person before their crimes. So many of them send up your creeper bat signal right from the jump ... but a few of them don't. And the ones that don't were (in my limited experience of adjudicating these cases) ALWAYS the worst ones. And that scares the shit out of me, that the worst ones are the ones you can't identify in advance.

I have no answer or suggestions. They just scare the bejeezus out of me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:09 PM on April 30 [43 favorites]


This was a horrifying read. It's so sad to read how he went directly for the vulnerable kids, I'm glad this has an end. Think of how many creeps get away with this, and how long Bailey has gotten away with it.

Over in the division-thread, I mentioned my wonderful math teacher. She was charismatic in her own way -- most kids were scared of her. But she saved me in more than one way.

From 6th to 8th grade we had a teacher in several classes, as I remember it, they were biology, geography and maybe PE? I don't know, but it was about half of our weekly schedule. He was good friends with our Danish teacher, and they arranged all sorts of truly great extracurricular activities for us. They were both very good teachers, and they were both sexual predators. Here the age of consent is 15, and this was the 70s so if there were school rules, there was no-one to uphold them.
I could see he was a creep from the first minute of the first class. That was why he sent me out of class, either up to the math teacher or to the school psychologist, every day in every class before I had even said one word. Eventually, the other girls in my class came to the same conclusion, and happily no one became a victim. Someone must have alerted her parents, because we were assigned other teachers in those classes, and a year after he was fired.

The Danish teacher married a student when he graduated, and they remained together for many years, as far as I know, she stopped going after students.

The English teacher also sent me out of class regularly, but that was a different story. It did contribute to the general opinion that I was a difficult student, though, possibly helping Mr. Creep hide his ways.

Now there are several weird things. Why did my parents not react to the fact that I was out of class for at least half of the schedule for 2 years? One reason probably was that they went out drinking with the teachers sometimes. I had quite young parents, along with one other student, and her mother was a teacher at our school. I didn't directly tell them that the teacher was a creep, because I didn't really know the words for what I was seeing. I generally hated touchy people when I was a kid, and I probably felt my parents would hear it as an expression of that, rather than something sexual.

Why did the school board not react to the fact that teachers were openly grooming children and then dating students the minute they turned 15 (our school went from 6-18)? Part of the answer was that this was the 70s, and part of it might have been the above-mentioned social life. My mother was best friends with the head of the school board. I know that some parents had a clear sense of what was right and wrong, so it wasn't like pedophilia was widely accepted back then.

And finally, when we talk about this, all these years later, all of the boys (now men) deny that our teacher was a pedophile, which he was openly. For this, I have no explanation, and I find it strange and somehow also scary. How could they not see something which was clear as daylight? They loved him as a teacher, and he was genuinely good at teaching. Lots of us really enjoyed biology already and he was good at showing us things on field trips (I was on those). Since I was hardly ever in class, I only know this from second hand, but among other things, sex-ed was in his classes, and I get the impression that the boys felt he passed on valuable tips (blergh).
posted by mumimor at 2:03 AM on May 1 [5 favorites]


Chilling, his long-term strategy of maintaining his relationships with his students until they hit legal adulthood. The calculatedness.

Our high school had a charismatic teacher who had supposedly left his wife to marry a student. This had happened before my time and was considered eyebrow raising but not abusive, at that time. We also had a female student teacher who fucked my female friend, and was fired for it.

Looking back I treasured some of my weirder teacher relationships: the photography teacher who let kids skip other classes and hang out in his classroom. The teacher who invited me over to her house and signed me up for classes at the Berkeley Psychic Institute.

I spent a lot of time with people who were 5 or 8 years older than me, and always there were outlier fully grown adults hanging out at the edges of my adolescent scenes.

Stepping out of the realm of abuse and into the weird ambiguity of influential adults, I'm left with this combination of clear- eyed understanding that there's something emotionally stunted about adults socializing with teens, and with a gratitude that I had those experiences and got to encounter a lot of weird and different things and ideas. I could relate to the stories about how good it feels, as a young teen, to feel the interest and attention of adults, some that clearly landed in the harmful and exploitive zone, some that just hangs out somewhere more ambiguous.

Cultural shifts (for the better) since the 80s have also helped define and solidify what kinds of relationships are harmful.
posted by latkes at 6:59 AM on May 1


I have stories too but won't add to the deluge. Simply will say that this story reminded me of this one that ran in the New Yorker a few years back. about Robert Berman, a teacher at Horace Mann School in NY. It never left my mind, because of the degree of cultlike psychological manipulation and the extent to which many of the teacher's victims were still loyal to him, and also because it created an enormous outpouring on social media of other past students of this guy, as well as others who had creepster teachers.

I appreciate Callisto Prime's comment about ways of inoculating children against manipulative behavior by helping to render it visible. In my experience, this kind of education goes a long way toward prevention. But I know that at no point during my high school years did I, or any student, get any kind of orientation to what appropriate vs. inappropriate teacher-student behavior looks like. Did we know what the school's rules were regarding being alone with a student? No. Did we know what kinds of touching were permissible and what kinds were not? No. Were we aware that predation was a possibility, and encouraged to see it not only in a romantic wow-they-notice-me way, but in a way that could be damaging to your growth and freedom? No. Were we told what to do if we knew that we, or someone we knew, was being targeted for this kind of behavior? No.

There were absolutely no guardrails. Are there now? Are students being empowered with this information now? Shouldn't they be? If they had spent 1/10th of the time on this that they spent warning us about STDs, a lot of people would have been a lot healthier and better off.
posted by Miko at 7:24 AM on May 1 [8 favorites]


One thing I have come to be very grateful for is my lack of accomplishment, recognition, or power when I was younger. I was absolutely a high school student who yearned to be special and cool and loved, and when I graduated I didn’t magically lose those cravings. I know that it frustrated me when I was in my 20s that I couldn’t make people be friends with me, or sleep with me. Fortunately, I was not in a position to do much about it. Even more fortunately, I stopped it (I don’t like ‘grew out of it’ because those desires to just make people like me shouldn’t be normalized). I worked hard to understand how to relate to other people, and I got therapy, and I had hard talks with friends and family, and I built a lot of empathy and self-love that I had really struggled with. I got treatment for my depression and I devoted myself to being a person that I wanted to be around, and that others wanted to be around. And I stopped wanting to exercise power for myself, but rather to help others succeed. And it feels so much better.

Reading this, and the Noel Clarke horrors, and Roth himself, and all of these other men who charm and prey on everyone they can find, I am so glad I didn’t have power over anyone. I wonder how many of these men are/were like I was: frozen in adolescence, wielding charisma to gain power over the vulnerable. One thing I have had to come to terms with is that I wasn’t ready for adulthood when I graduated. Thank god no one armed me. I would have had no incentive to change. And the thought of still identifying with Holden Caulfield, of being frozen in the furious entitlement of white male adolescence, is horrifying. No one should be subjected to adult men with adolescent brains.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 8:11 AM on May 1 [5 favorites]


Based on what I saw in Illinois, for every 5,000 students, you're looking at one substantiated teacher sexual abuse claim per year…. But those are the REALLY BAD claims that can be substantiated.

I would estimate the underlying rate of abuse is one order of magnitude higher based on my experiences as a student.

And that scares the shit out of me, that the worst ones are the ones you can't identify in advance.

I've come to the conclusion that supervision is the answer. Most abuse will not produce substantiable claims. It will always be easier to "not rehire" abusers and allow them to move on to the next school than it is to hound them out of the profession or seek charges and prison time. It's probably impossible to prevent all emotionally immature or broken people from becoming teachers. Many teachers are 24-year-olds and many 24-year-olds are emotionally immature. Some of them will abuse if they have the chance.

The problem is not unique to schools, either. Some adults will abuse everywhere they have unsupervised authority over kids*. But it is possible to remove opportunities for severe abuse.

The trend toward co-teaching is very promising. There are fewer opportunities for abuse when teachers have less alone time with students. Stores that employ teenagers should ensure more than one manager is present whenever underage employees are on the clock. I think we can protect kids not by profiling abusers but by making it harder to abuse.

* - A friend was told by her manager at 16: "I only hired you because you're hot and now you're a huge bitch but I can't fire you because you're the only one who knows how to do anything."
posted by Ptrin at 9:10 AM on May 1 [5 favorites]


Think of it this way: You’re a teacher, it’s just after class, and a few students stay behind and want to joke around and perhaps slightly flirt with you. Can you pull a stoic face and say: “This is my work time, see you next class?” It seems like a small choice, but it’s a big choice. You may tell yourself: Maybe one of these kids just needs a positive interaction with an adult. Maybe they just need to bond a little bit with a teacher. So maybe you let them stay and joke and converse and maybe slightly flirt. But you should have put on the stoic face and said “this is my work time, see you next class.”

If you have a latent inferno in your soul, it probably comes out in those small decisions, little boundary issues, little interactions that fuel your sense first of being “cool” and likable , then maybe later needing that sense of being cool and likable, then later using cool and likable towards some sense of dominance and mastery over others. Maybe throughout you secretly hate what you’ve become, which only fuels your need to be liked by students.

The only way out of this sadly common nightmare is for teachers to be trained in the discipline of understanding this is a working relationship, with formal boundaries, and clear emotional distinctions between teacher and student, all the way up through graduate school and in any other educational setting. The same way that therapists know up front that transference and countertransference are real and must be dealt with intentionally, teachers must be willing to speak openly and with high professional standards about these moments and how exactly to handle them.

And, as with therapists, there will be creeps, and they must get their asses kicked out of the profession.
posted by argybarg at 9:21 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]


With all respect, I don't think Blake Bailey was ever on a slippery slope like the one you describe, argybarg. He was scheming years ahead, as was my creepy teacher. And as were some of my teachers and later colleagues at university.
I think we need to differentiate between those who get "power-drunk" and abuse because they can, and those who actively seek jobs where they can abuse students and plan how to do this over many years, even decades. Not that the first group shouldn't be held responsible/punished. It's just two different things when you are trying to vet out predators and protect the students.

In my classes, I often ask for a notebook as part of the exam, and I have realized that I have to specify that private notes are not allowed, because some vulnerable students really need to express their feelings. In line with your anecdote about students hanging on after class, I can see how this can feel validating. In my long career within education there have been times where I have needed the validation of my students, because everything else was fucked up and teaching is one thing I am good at. I haven't emotionally abused anyone, but I can see how it could happen. Sexual abuse is so beyond the pale, I can't really see how that would happen.
Blake Bailey is a whole other animal. Keeping track of students far into adulthood?? Manipulating them with assignments?? Touching them in class??? I could go on, but someone should have called the cops, to be honest.
posted by mumimor at 9:59 AM on May 1 [7 favorites]


We don't become adults on any specific day. Our characters begin forming early on, informed by our experiences. We are layered, like onions, child/adults all our lives. When my son approached his 10th birthday I saw glimmers of the man he eventually became. It's not hard for me to believe that teachers, also, get breathtaking prevues of their students' as potential adults. The outrage lies in recognizing innocence and interpreting it as vulnerability to be exploited. Pink Moose, thank you for that thoughtful observation.

mumimor points out that boys may not see the creepiness in certain things predatory adults do. Of course they don't. They are being trained in the same school as was the predator. They are just not old enough to use those tools the same way. Think how jokes and stories give us social contours, vague parameters, soggy proprieties, implied rules of conduct. The "age of consent" represents nothing. It's legal fiction. The issue is predation. It's easy enough to write a law that says you can't fuck children, but then you have to define child, and we are much too complicated for it to be that simple. Bailey is a creep, to be sure. It would be good to remember that he is a product of creep school, where half our population is trained to be victims of the other half.

Empathy may be a good thing, but it's awful to realize that my discomfort at reading this post is the tip of the iceberg, compared to what those who've had to live through this stuff are enduring.


Pink Moose: "...I think this is the real taboo--that there is a set of behaviours that appear to be respecting a kids autonomy, but which refuses to think of them as a kid. Respecting a kid's autonomy, one concentrates on the first half more than the second half. That respecting means that you are always the adult, that no matter one wants, that one is never going to be 17 again, and you don't invade kids personal lives, esp. sexually. I think pretty deeply, that friends across generations are a pretty good idea, but one of the consquences of being older, is to intergrate the experience that you have, to not be vampiric."
. . .
mumimor: And finally, when we talk about this, all these years later, all of the boys (now men) deny that our teacher was a pedophile, which he was openly. For this, I have no explanation, and I find it strange and somehow also scary. How could they not see something which was clear as daylight? They loved him as a teacher, and he was genuinely good at teaching. Lots of us really enjoyed biology already and he was good at showing us things on field trips (I was on those). Since I was hardly ever in class, I only know this from second hand, but among other things, sex-ed was in his classes, and I get the impression that the boys felt he passed on valuable tips (blergh).
posted by mule98J at 10:11 AM on May 1 [3 favorites]


My HS English teacher was almost exactly like this, only a woman, I was one of the main targets of her grooming. We journaled, and I would guess that 80% of my classmates did not care or do much with it, but me and her had a deep bond. Well. yeah, that's what it seemed like from my gangly virgin teenager perspective. Not angry or bitter about it, but wonder what became of her, and how many other teenage boys she managed to string along like me.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:35 AM on May 1 [7 favorites]


Sounds familiar, meatbomb. I’m sorry.

Everyone at my high school knew the Creative Writing teacher had conceived a son by, and also married, one of her former students. The former supposedly happened while he was still a student.

She also seemed to pick a boy she favoured every year on the literary magazine.

“You can call me by my first name!” really is a tell. And EM is right — it was always the people who self-identified as permanent teenagers, well into middle age.
posted by armeowda at 7:28 PM on May 1 [5 favorites]


This all made me ask my mother about what she remembered about Mr. Creep and what happened. It wasn't much, maybe more will turn up. But what she did recall echoes the stories in the New Yorker article linked above by Miko: that the parents and the school board knew something was off, but lacked the evidence to prove it, until one day, the evidence was finally there.
posted by mumimor at 7:55 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


One thing I really hope has changed, or is changing, is that if kids realize there's something wrong they can actually tell an adult. When I was a kid it was made absolutely clear that adults were always right and not on your side. I felt like every interaction with adults was made to quash us. Nobody cared, for instance, that the social studies teacher was openly racist and used openly racist language in the classroom (in our all-white school in our all-white rural town).

The teacher who gave piano lessons after school would lean too close, sit too near, blah blah blah, and the only thing I could do about it was stop taking piano lessons. You couldn't tell an adult you were uncomfortable with him. You couldn't tell another adult you were uncomfortable with someone. My mother would have absolutely scoffed.

Sigh.
posted by Occula at 8:43 AM on May 2 [7 favorites]


I remember the same thing, Occula. Adults were not on our side and were not to be trusted. Opening up about anything was inviting wrath or mockery. This was in the 70s and early 80s in a town that was also all white and rural. Abuse of all kind abounded and it was rare that anything was done about it. There is a lot of sneering about kids being too coddled today but when I see parents with their children now, I'm struck by how much more love* and patience there is. Maybe, just maybe the kids coming up now will be less susceptible to predatory adults.

*I will never forget the little boy I saw a few months back that put his hand in his father's hand and said, "Daddy, I love you." And the father beamed and replied, "I love you more." There would never, ever have been an interaction like that happening when and where I was a child.
posted by LindsayIrene at 8:57 AM on May 2 [9 favorites]


he issue is predation. It's easy enough to write a law that says you can't fuck children, but then you have to define child, and we are much too complicated for it to be that simple

It's for exactly this reason that we put arbitrary bright lines into the law. Yes, they are arbitrary. You don't materially change on your 16th or 18th birthday and enter a distinct new human category. But your legal status changes, and we need to do it this way, because there is no test of maturity and emotional health, and if there were, we can be sure it would be biased and inaccurate and people would learn to game it.

I often see people who want to defend predators, or legal major-legal minor relationships, make the point that maturity occurs on a different timeline for everyone, so there can be no single standard. Yes, s/he may be only 17, but mentally, socially, emotionally, s/he's 25. Well, that sort of weaselly defense is precisely why we need a single legal standard: because we can't base law and policy on subjective interpretations of maturity. We probably can't even define maturity. If we establish a bright line, and we all understand what that line means, we live with it even if we have some quibbles with it. The important thing is that we know it's there and we know it has consequences.
posted by Miko at 3:05 PM on May 2 [6 favorites]


"The only way out of this sadly common nightmare is for teachers to be trained in the discipline of understanding this is a working relationship, with formal boundaries, and clear emotional distinctions between teacher and student, all the way up through graduate school and in any other educational setting. [...] teachers must be willing to speak openly and with high professional standards about these moments and how exactly to handle them."

Every teacher I know has had this training, and has it in an ongoing fashion in yearly continuing education seminars. Most teachers know it and take it to heart; predators know it and use it to weasel around the rules. I've sat in hearings with predatory teachers, and I've fired them, and the predators know exactly how to speak openly and with high professional standards about how to handle a student approaching them inappropriately. They also know how to use fuckin' burner phones so the student says, "I was texting Mr. G and he asked for a boob pic!" and Mr. G says, "she did text me, but it was asking about an assignment, and when she flirted I told her to stop" and shows his phone as evidence, and then there's a burner phone where the real gross texting went on. (Which we only ever saw when the FBI got involved, but there were other cases where it seemed OBVIOUS there MUST be a burner phone, but our local police tech people were not very good, and not very aggressive, at that time. They'd be like, "Whatever, you've got him on assault, who cares if these texts are real?" "UH, US. WE CARE. WE CARE A LOT.") These guys would say all the right things, and they were very composed in their hearings and trials as they explained the poor, poor 15-year-old girl desperate for teacher attention who kept coming on to them while they gently but firmly turned her aside. Sometimes they'd even report the girls to the principal, so they'd have a record that they were making administrators aware of this! While raping them.

There are a lot of stories I could tell. One that really stands out in my mind, because these happened during the same hiring season -- my district used a more stringent background check than the general one run by the state police that's required for hiring teachers in Illinois. We wanted to hire a really great, fresh-out-of-grad-school teacher, but it turned out he was on the sex offender registry, because he and his wife had had sex in a remote public park at 3 a.m. because his parents were visiting and being kind-of awful. (Which, like, don't do that if you want to have a teaching license. But also, low on my list of concerns.) Meanwhile, there was another guy with an amazing degree, fresh out of college in Tennessee, and his state police background check came out clean as a whistle. Because, as it turns out, Tennessee didn't at the time share their criminal history database with other states (I don't know if they do now). But our broader, more expensive background check went hunting in prior states of residence, and it turned out this guy raped at least two college freshmen when he was a college senior -- managed to get them reduced to misdemeanors, because his father was a prominent donor to the college -- and had SIX more complaints against him that were never investigated by local cops. Like, this guy's whole M.O. was to prey on teenaged girls, especially when they were lacking support systems, and pretty clearly a high school teaching job would give him an open field for his predatory instincts, and his father's money combined with cops' disinterest in men sexually assaulting women and girls, and Tennessee's refusal to share data, gave him a clean enough "record" to get hired outside Tennessee. I do not know if he eventually got hired anywhere. We did not hire him. But it's at least a little telling that he was applying to badly-paying downstate Illinois districts when he had no connections to the area, when there was a teacher shortage and he had a license to teach HS science. Maddeningly, you can report accusations against EMPLOYEES to the state board of ed, even if they're not substantiated -- they're reported in a dry, HR sort of way, that there was an investigation -- but you can't report ACTUAL CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS of people TRYING to be teachers in Illinois, if the Illinois State Police background check doesn't turn those up b/c those states don't provide data to ISP. There are a LOT of smaller districts in Illinois that just run the standard, legally-required ISP background check, because the better ones are expensive.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:55 PM on May 2 [17 favorites]


The other thing that I think isn't highlighted enough about this story (and I'm making a separate comment because I really want to highlight this!) is that Bailey taught at a charter school. And there's a lot of politics to be argued about charter schools as a concept, but what is inarguable is that because they are generally not unionized (even in states where public school teachers are universally unionized) and because in all states they are typically subjected to lower standards than teachers at "regular" public schools, charter schools are heavily dependent on high teacher churn and idealistic young graduates. Their teachers may NOT come through traditional teaching programs, with professional standards courses. Their administrators quite often come from the business world, not the education world, and know a lot about managing employees, but very little about the specific challenges of teaching. In my experience in Illinois, they are heavily dependent upon working new graduates tech hours, while paying them less than other local public school teachers get. (Like, if your average 1st-year teacher is earning $36,000 a year and working 12-hour days, your average 1st-year charter school teacher is earning $30,000 + good feelings, and working 16-hour days. That's where all the savings comes from!) It's unusual in Illinois for teachers to last three years at a charter school, because the burnout rate is SO high, and everyone who doesn't burn out is trying desperately to leap to a unionized public school. I did not in five years meet a single charter school teacher with more than five years experience -- certainly no no-nonsense teachers with 20 years of experience with 12-year-olds.

Our local charter school was bound and determined to never report any disciplinary incidents to us -- it made their numbers look AMAZING for student discipline and teacher crime-ing if they didn't report any of them -- and we actually had a lawsuit, that was still pending when I left, about whether charter schools were required to report that information to local public districts/the state board of education. (They were also super-determined not to teach the mandated-by-state-law genocide curriculum, but that's a whole different story.) Even if we won, though, they just would have carried on not reporting any of it, because charter schools can be run by for-profit corporations, and the way they make the profits is by hiring brand-new, sometimes underqualified, always underpaid teachers, paying them less than the local union contracts, and denying any problems that arise. All that creates profit! (Sometimes they also ignore rules around school lunches and busing and things like that, because that costs money and profit comes from not feeding students.)

I'd like to think that Bailey couldn't have gotten away with so much for so long if he weren't teaching at a charter school. I know that's not true -- there are predators who last 20 years in public schools -- but there were some things that stood out to me in the story as signaling "charter school!" before I knew he taught at a charter school. There's just so much less supervision, so much less teacher professionalism -- a lot of these schools VALUE the chummy, we're-all-buddies sort of teaching that lets predators like Bailey thrive. I'd like to think he'd have been drummed out a lot faster in a traditional public school, because some of these signs are so egregious -- hindsight is 20/20. But we should not overlook the way charter schools enabled him and gave him access to vulnerable students. To particularly vulnerable students! because charter schools often serve low-income, low-resource populations.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:48 PM on May 2 [18 favorites]


As an AFAB person, reading this thread has definitely prompted memories. There was that skeezy gym teacher when I was in 7th grade... I think I remember hearing that charges of some sort were eventually brought against him, but I was long gone from that school by then. And we also had a creepy psychology teacher in high school – I remember having conversations with friends about how icky he seemed and "don't wear a skirt if you sit in the front row".

It's also got me thinking about the high school teacher I was close with who (I now realize in retrospect) was always careful about both boundaries and how interactions might be perceived. He had a nickname that we could use, but it was along the lines of "my name is George VeryLongName, you can call me Mr. VeryLongName or you can call me Ver, which is what most of my fellow teachers call me." He did choose some students to work as teacher's assistants (I was one) and we did meet one-on-one in the classroom, but (as I remember it) the door was always propped open to the hallway outside, where one of the banks of student lockers was located, so there were always people around. And I did go to his house on a weekend once to drop off some homework I'd graded, but when I rang the bell his wife answered the door and said "Oh, you must be Lex, George said you'd be stopping by. [turning toward the inside of the house] Hey, George, Lex is here! [turning back to me] Would you like a glass of water? It's a hot day to be out on your bike."

Also, the "privileges" associated with being one of Ver's TAs were that you got one period when you didn't have to be in an assigned classroom and could instead just hang out in the library reading or… basically just exist outside the classroom during class time without getting in trouble. I still remember one day sitting on a bench outside talking with a friend who was a TA for a different teacher, during a time when everyone else was in class. The yard guy* came up to us and said "All right, you two, what are you up to?" Friend looked up at him with a slow blink and said "…wreaking havoc?" He stifled a laugh and said "All right, but don't let me catch you doing it again" and wandered off to see what else was going on around campus.

* As I type this in 2021 I realize I should probably explain the "yard guy" concept (which may only have been a thing at my high school, I don't know). This was the mid-1980s. School shootings weren't a thing and our school's campus plan was wide open – anyone could walk onto campus from any direction, pretty much. Plus we were allowed to leave campus during breaks. So the school employed Dan – "Dan the Yard Man", as we called him – in a position that was less of a security guard and more of a proctor. It was because Dan knew the students as well as he did that he knew that seeing Friend and me just hanging out outside during a class period wasn't a problem, even before he talked to us.
posted by Lexica at 1:06 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


I had two "cool" teachers; one was busted for illegal steroid purchase and disappeared midsemester. The other one (surprise) taught the girls volleyball team and had the team over to his house often. There were rumors but he was never charged with anything. My parents had brought me up with the concept of grooming, so even then I thought it was gross that these adults wanted to be our friends rather than just be teachers. I need to call my parents and thank them for helping me dodge these horrible bullets.
posted by benzenedream at 8:29 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


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