In my last post, I iterated how my first year of teaching in Denver turned out to be something of a “witch-hunt”, a term my then-principal used during the events of that school year.
As challenging as this year was, there is one day that stands out at the most arduous; the day I was interrogated by HR for sexual harassment.
This interrogation was the result of my “teammate,” the other special ed teacher I was working with that I had a rocky start to the year with already, accused me of staring at her, as she put it, “snatch.”
You see, one of my Tourette’s symptoms consists of me looking at things obsessively, compulsively, and sometimes repeatedly until it feels “just right.” And I remember explicitly the day in question. We were standing and conversing in our room, and as she was speaking, I had this urge to look at the legs of a chair behind her. After a few moments of doing this, she crowed, “What are you looking at?!?”
I replied, “Nothing. It’s just a tic.”
As our working relationship devolved, she brought this incident to my principal but said she did not want to pursue an investigation at that time. Some four months later, as things had gotten truly untenable between us, she filed a formal complaint.
I remember being called to my principal’s office because the HR director wanted to “talk” with me, completely unaware of the magnitude of the impending conversation. When I walked in, the HR director was stoic, and he introduced his personal assistant to me who he said would be recording the dialogue between us. I could hear a spider crawl with the seriousness aerating the room.
He read, from a script, a list of questions, asking if I committed certain sexual misconduct actions, such as pinching, touching, fondling, etc.
I was devastated.
In fact, this stands as the most humiliating experience of my life.
As the interrogation concluded, I was dismissed from the office. I went back to my classroom, hunkered my head on my forearms, and began bawling. “This is what I came here for,” I cried to myself.
I had moved from the Colorado Springs where I was, for the most part, universally loved at my school and had a terrific network of friends who supported me by and by. I moved to Denver for a new experience, hoping that I would find more acceptance with my Tourette's from the greater population, including potential romantic interests.
Unfortunately, I found less acceptance there.
Not one to give up, I remained steadfast and remained at that school for a total of four year. The other sped teacher got transferred, and many of the people that were part of the overall “witch-hunt” had phased out, in one way or another, from that school.
I persevered. I didn’t get run out by people who could not accept or respect my disability; people who used it against me in heinous ways. Because of this, I was able to take this experience and used it to educate, advocate, and motivate others persons with disabilities, including my students, to not give up, that not everyone in the world is going to like you, and that’s okay.
Today, when a student comes to me with a personal issue with another student, I hearken back to that school year in my life, and I kindly tell the student to advocate for their own needs and demonstrate kindness but if that kindness is not received, reciprocated, and respected, then it’s better to focus on the kids who do want to be friends.
I tell them, “I choose to focus on the positive relationships in my life, and you should too.”
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