The best teacher I ever had was a paedophile.
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.
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.)