Yup.

Best ever.

He’s the teacher I still think about, though I haven’t seen him for 44 years. You might call that making an impression.

I didn’t find out what became of him until a few years ago, when I was at the Children’s Literature New England conference and met a woman from the teensy little town I grew up in. “I was the librarian at Angier School,” she told me.

And without a pause I asked about my beloved fifth grade teacher. “Whatever happened to him?” I asked, desperate to know if he was still alive, if I could contact him and tell him how much he meant to me all those years ago.

And she told me what happened to him.

He was awaiting sentencing for statuatory rape of a child, then aged six, whom he had abused for six years. Doesn’t seem to be much mitigation possible with that story. Six years is a long time. My wonderful teacher would have been in his 60s by then.

Devastating news.

But there were questions, too. Like WHY was he the best teacher I ever had? And why have so many people responded to this story by telling me that their very-best-teacher-ever had an ‘unnatural’ interest in kids?

Teachers are presumably attracted to teaching because of a compulsion to teach, but perhaps — very occasionally — there’s also a compulsion to be around children for other reasons.

My best ever teacher was amazing because he loved us, really loved us. Not only did he love us, he needed us. The atmosphere in the classroom was electric, thrilling. We all felt it. We hung on his every word. He was an astonishing teacher. I never had a more inspiring year at school.

I would like to talk to him, still. Partly because I am interested in the darkness that drives people and I imagine a life lived with the dominance of such dangerous, unacceptable desires must be a life of pure and utter hell.

And partly because he was the most important teacher I ever had.

 

(Here’s the story that reminded me, with thanks to Anne Joseph and the Times Educational Supplement.)

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11 thoughts on “The best teacher I ever had was a paedophile.

  1. Jon M 5 years ago

    I’ve always been very suspicious of personality cults for whatever age. I was dubious when the government used the slogan “Nobody forgets a good teacher.” As a practising teacher for over twenty years, I happen to believe that the best teachers are like reverse burglars. They get in, deliver the goods and get out without leaving a trace.

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      Do you really think so, Jon? I’ve had a few (but just a few) amazing teachers in my time, and it’s those subjects I remember… So much time in school and university is just spent waiting for it to be over.

  2. Kathleen 5 years ago

    One of my cousin’s friends used to see a private music tutor who later became a paedophile. My cousin read the story in a local newspaper, and before showing the paper to his friend, asked him what he remembered of his old tutor. “He was always a bit handsy.”

  3. Celine 5 years ago

    Sorry Jon M but that’s hurtful bullshit. I thnk my two secondary school English teachers in the dedications to my first three books because they were so incredibly unforgettable and influential and dedicated. If I ever get my graphic novel’s into print I will thank my art teacher for the very same reason. Most of the time that great teacher is remembered because that’s what they were, a grea teacher. One of the many horrible things about child abuse is that it makes us all look side ways at those who are innocently and genuinely devoted to the nurturing of the young.

  4. Celine 5 years ago

    Sorry for all the typos Meg, when I get upset my dyslexia just leaps up on me.

  5. Elizabeth - Letters from a Small State 5 years ago

    Does it change the way you think about the “good” you got from him? I wonder. Does a persons flaws or faults — however heinous — cancel out their goodness? Man, this is really interesting Meg.

  6. Suranne Keynes 5 years ago

    Has it tainted your memory of him as a teacher? Or do you find yourself questioning his motives? Sometimes when new information emerges about your early memories, you sort of weave it into the fabric and it becomes what you think you remember.

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      It doesn’t change what I think of him as a teacher. He was brilliant, there’s no doubt about that. Mainly I feel sorry for him. And of course REALLY sorry for the little girl. People lead such tormented, complex lives.

  7. Ray P Hewitt 5 years ago

    I fancied Mrs Edge who taught drama back in 1986 … Best teacher I had though was Sgt Turnbull, he taught me how to stay alive (owe him a pint I reckon)

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      Never had a teacher who taught me that. Pretty useful, I’d say.

  8. Jon Mayhew 5 years ago

    Wow! I think you misunderstood me, Celine, and I would never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, seriously! We make a huge fuss about charismatic, super teachers but the reality is that many of the skills we learn are imparted to us by quiet, often forgotten, practitioners in our early years. I do remember many teachers fondly and some of them did inspire me. I’m sure manyof my pupils remember me as fondly as I remember them. but I know I learnt a lot from lots of adults I don’t remember too.

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