I attended public schools growing up, which wasn’t as bad as some people would have you believe. At least it wasn’t out in the far suburbs of Chicago where the streets were more likely to be teeming with cows than gang members. I had my share of good teachers, a couple of them I’d go so far as to call excellent. Most of the teachers were competent, but average. They got the job done, kept control of the class, and managed to make sure that you left with a little more knowledge in your head than you came in with. But you take the good along with the bad: I also had a fifth grade teacher who was horribly inept and lazy, and an eighth grade teacher who was a living nightmare. That nightmare was called Lester the Molester.
Lester was a math teacher in our local junior high school. An ugly, short man with a ruddy complexion and a body turning soft, Lester started off each school year with the same pop quiz he gave every year. “As this is a math class, we’ll start off with a quiz about numbers. Who can tell me the significance of the number 1?” Students would raise their hand to answer that the number one was the first positive integer, or the first prime number, or some other obvious thing.
After letting the students guess for five minutes, he’d reveal with a flourish that the number one stood for the United States Army 1st Infantry Division, otherwise known as the Big Red One. He’d regale the class with the exploits of this legendary fighting force, how it fought in Africa in WWII, crawled inch by bloody inch up the coast of Italy, and then blasted into Europe to finish off the Germans in the invasion of Normandy.
When he told this story to my class, one of the students in the front row asked him, “Did you fight in World War II?” “Haven’t you been listening to me? The Big Red One, US Army, 1st infantry division! Write that down, it’ll probably be on a test.” Anyone with half a brain in his head knew that this was utter bullshit. Assuming Lester was 50, that would’ve made him 8 when hostilities started.
The next day, Lester walked the aisles to visually inspect everyone’s homework assignment. As far as I was ever able to determine, he wasn’t interested in whether or not you got the correct answer, just that you did every problem and showed your work. If you didn’t, then you knew about it as a classmate named Phil found out on that second day of class.
Lester: I assigned ten problems, you only did nine.
Phil: I did? (looks at paper) I… I guessed I must have missed one.
Lester: You must have missed one… That’s right, you must have just missed one… Oops! I missed one. YOU SOUND LIKE A MALINGERER TO ME! YOU DON’T JUST MISS ONE! YOU GET LAZY AND DECIDE NOT TO DO ONE! WHICH IS IT? WELL? WHICH IS IT?
Phil: I… I… I don’t know…
Lester: YOU DON’T KNOW? WELL LET ME TELL YOU! YOU ARE LAZY, AND I WILL NOT TOLERATE LAZY STUDENTS IN MY CLASSROOM. GO TO THE OFFICE!
Now if that sounds like an extremely nutty outburst for a teacher to have on the second day of class, you’re right. But it was made so, so much weirder by what happened next.
Lester: Where is your homework uhhh.. (looks at seating chart) Jill. Where is your homework, Jill?
Jill: I… I… I… I…
Lester: Did you forget to do it?
Lester: That’s ok, Jill, you’re very pretty.
With that, lightbulbs went off over the heads of every student in the room. Lester didn’t like boys, but he loved little girls. At first the girls felt like they were getting the better end of the deal: Pop quizzes would turn into opportunities to give the girls Snicker bars for “trying so very hard”, while boys would get a dismissive nod for a correct answer if they were lucky, or else a sneer and a sarcastic, “Nice job, suck-up” if they weren’t. And if a boy got out of line in any way, he’d be sent to the office in a lunatic, red-faced screaming tirade, but arriving at the office, the secretary would smile and say, “Got kicked out of math class, huh? Ok, go hang out in the library until the bell rings.” It seemed that the office knew about Lester’s quirks as well and didn’t feel inclined to punish boys for something that wasn’t their fault.
But after a while, the girls started finding the attention a little unnerving. Questions about square roots starting coming with follow-up questions: “Good job, Nancy. Did your boyfriend help you with your studies? You do have a boyfriend, don’t you? I mean, a pretty young girl like you with such a pretty face and a pretty body. I bet your boyfriend is crazy about you!” The beginning of every class seemed more like a fashion show, with Lester commenting on everything from clothing, to hair, to how well certain girls were filling out their sweaters.
By the time the second semester rolled around, Lester was being openly referred to as Lester the Molester (although not to his face). By now the boys had learned the ropes in Lester’s class: Do your homework and keep your mouth shut, and you’ll do fine. The girls, however, were increasingly starting to dread the class. I knew of at least five girls who discussed telling the principal about Lester’s behavior, but the general feeling was that while he was acting a little creepy, he didn’t really do anything other than say nice things.
And right about this time, things started to turn for the worse. It started when Lester chased two girls into the girl’s bathroom while yelling “No running in the hall! No running in the hall!” To be fair, the girls were running, and they did run into the girl’s bathroom to get away from Lester (smart girls). Lester denied doing anything other than grabbing the girls’ arms and pulling them out of the bathroom, but the girls claimed he had opened all of the (thankfully empty) stalls looking for accomplices.
And Lester’s behavior in class became more aggressive as well. One day he looked at a girl, a common target of his affections, and said to her, “You look very pretty wearing that dress, Sandy. I wonder how pretty you look without it?” Sandy picked up her books and ran to the office in tears. “Women…” Lester said as he rolled his eyes. Even then I remember thinking to myself, “Not women, little girls you asshole.”
Amazingly, Sandy was told by the principal that “Lester has some issues, but we can’t get rid of him. So just get your work done and be quiet in class.” Sandy was one of the five girls who had discussed talking to the principal, and now the other four came forward as well. They were told the same thing.
Lester also began playing a game with the girls that he had long played with the boys. You’d find yourself spacing out, and he would catch you off guard by barking a question at you. “GREG! DO YOU WANT TO STAY WITH ME?” This was a trick question. If you interpreted the question to mean, “Do you want to pay attention and stay with me while I teach you?” you answered yes. “Fine! Since you want to stay with me, you can stay in detention after school.”
If, however, you interpreted the question to mean, “Do you want to stay with me after school?” you answered no. And then Lester would say, “IF YOU CANNOT STAY WITH ME WHILE I AM TEACHING YOU, YOU CAN JUST GO TO THE OFFICE YOU INGRATE! YOU LOUSY PIECE OF GARBAGE! GET OUT OF HERE NOW!” After having seen it a few times, most boys just said no and calmly walked to the office, knowing they’d wind up in the library.
Now, suddenly, the girls found themselves playing this game. Most of the girls opted to go to the office, but some of the more bashful girls did not want to get yelled at and tried to reason their way free. “I want to pay attention in class, if that’s what you’re asking.” “It is not what I am asking. But as I have a class to teach, I cannot spend time explaining myself further. We can talk about it in detention after school.”
About a month after this started happening, I noticed that a classmate had stopped showing up for class, although I had seen her in school. “Hey, where’s Beth?” I asked a friend of hers in class. “Shhh! Be quiet! Are you crazy?” she hissed back. After class she explained that she “would die before being caught talking about Beth in front of Lester the Molester.”
“You have to promise not to repeat this.” She said. Beth had been caught in Lester’s “Stay With Me” game and had detention. When she showed up, Lester apologized to her and said that it was all a misunderstanding and that she was free to go. “I wish you would have told me that earlier,” Beth replied. “Now I’ve missed my bus.” “I’m sorry about that. But if you can give me five minutes, I can drive you home.”
Beth’s friend explained that on the way home, Beth had instructed Lester to take a right, which he ignored as he pulled into an empty subdivision. “You missed the turn, you needed to go right!” Lester then pulled the car over and said, “We’re going my way.” He then power-locked the door and reached for Beth, as she popped the lock and ran from the car, running across snowy fields until she got home.
I never did find out if the police were involved, but apparently Lester claimed it was a misunderstanding. The school, no doubt fearing legal complications, vouched for his character, and assuring Beth’s parents that the safety of students was paramount, simply moved Beth to another class. Beth, understandably for a girl of 13, decided she’d rather not have this be a topic of discussion at school and only told a select few people. Incredibly, this story stayed more or less buried.
Lester finally pushed his luck too far, about three years after I left for high school. Trying to break up a pile of rowdy and enthusiastic boys wrestling on the floor of the cafeteria, he wound up falling into the pile. Screaming at the top of his lungs, his face that familiar shade of crimson, he began throwing punches at anyone within arms reach. “GET OFF OF ME YOU GODDAMN FUCKING BASTARDS!” It seems that you can try to fuck the students in private, and you can try to psychologically damage them in public, but one thing you could not do at the time was physically damage students in public. He was “forced” to retire at 100% of his pension.
I don’t know what became of Lester after that. I once witnessed his wife picking him up at school, and it was obvious who wore the pants in that family. “Lester! Come along! I don’t have all day to wait on you!” Barked his wife. “Yes, dear” was his meek reply. I honestly think Lester, subconsciously striking back at his shrewish wife, tried to damage young girls. It probably gave him a sense of control in a life that offered him little besides a teacher’s salary, apathetic kids, and a domineering wife. That, and he was a giant fuckface.
Because, let’s not mince words here, anyone who fucks with kids’ heads in that fashion is sick. Anyone who does it as a pretext to molesting 13 year old girls is more than sick: They are diseased of mind and spirit and deserve to be put down like a rabid dog. And I’m not too sure that I wouldn’t include the school administrators in that assessment. There were numerous signs that they were dealing with a dangerous individual just in the year that I was in his class and kids from other classes confirmed that he always behaved this way. Yet, fearing discipline, litigation, and the teacher’s union they did nothing.
How many kids did this sick fuck scar for life? If he was that aggressive, I’ve got to imagine he’d occasionally get his hands on a young girl. Did it happen once? Three times? Ten? Twenty? It doesn’t matter. The fact that he tried at all was a crime, and the fact that the school knew about it and covered it up was arguably worse.
1983 seems a lifetime ago. Many, many things in our world have changed since then, some for the worse, some very much for the better. Sadly, we read of sex charges being brought up against teachers almost daily, yet charges being brought at all is a good thing, a change for the better. But in 1983, we still clung to the belief that teachers were a different breed, securing our future by nurturing the minds of our youth and quenching their thirst for knowledge with logic, and wisdom, and patience, and experience, and joy.
Now we know, of course, that while many teachers do, in fact, meet that high and lofty ideal, we’ve got some assholes in the mix. No longer can we automatically assume our kids are safe in school. Parents must lose their innocence so that their children may retain theirs.