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  • In May of 2007, one of the my former teachers was arrested on charges of child molestation. It was surreal to see him on the evening news; his mugshot projected next to a talking head.

    Six months later, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. The charges are too disturbing to repeat here.

    It was devastating news because of the impact he had on my life. "Mr. English" served as the student newspaper advisor at my middle school. I cherished the afternoons I spent working on the paper and they had an irrefutable influence on my career. If there was any doubt of that, it was erased when I recently opened my old diary. It contained a prophetic passage that read, "I think, one day, I would like to work for a magazine." (I did, right after college).

    In those days, my classmates and I would gather in the Macintosh computer lab after school so that Mr. English could help us plot out the articles: write-ups from the talent show, reports from the soccer game, interviews with administrators. Mr. English always nudged us to be more creative and less predictable. In brainstorming titles for the paper, which was new to the school, I remember him telling us to "Name it something interesting -- something you'd like to read!" So we did.

    I remember him, then, as a kind and caring man, one who was well-liked by both parents and students alike. His room was always open to students during lunch and recess, in case anyone was feeling lonely, bullied or just wanted a place to be creative.

    He also took us on field trips to the headquarters of national newspapers and TV stations, so that we could see what the real life of a journalist was like. I still have a picture of us all, sitting behind the news desk at NBC.

    On these field trips, Mr. English would drive a bunch of us in his mini van, recalling stories from his days as a taxi driver in New York. When I think back on it now, this peculiar but particular memory offers a sign that something was amiss in his life... what would compel a man to go from driving a taxi in the Big Apple to teaching in Suburbia? And why would he open up his classroom to lonely kids? Things that could have been done with a pure heart now seemed dark and twisted and tragic. I thought about what children he must have driven to his home in that same mini van.

    As children we were warned not to talk to strangers. We were warned about dangerous people. Yet we were never warned to question those people who were entrusted with our education, our safety and our dreams. Our teachers were meant to inspire us, not to destroy us, and yet we know that is not always what happens. We know that now. We also know there can be justice, however late it occurs.

    It's been five years since the arrest was made and I hadn't thought about my teacher again until today, when more news of the Penn State scandal was revealed. I couldn't help but think of Mr. English.

    What leads men down such twisted paths? How can people stand back and watch it happen?

    When mentors become monsters, can we ever reconcile the two?
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