The Mentoring

from Blowing Smoke: A Compendium of Everyday Excuses

“Whoever wants to be a judge of human nature should study people’s excuses.” — German poet and dramatist Christian Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863)

I’m great for kids. All this scrutiny of my internet use is completely unjustified. I’ve been cleared by the criminal background check process. In no way am I a danger to the children of this community, as I’m always cognizant of the boundary between student and teacher. Familiar with the internet as I am, I should have known better and acted with sounder moral judgment. I ask that my family’s privacy be respected. I don’t want my wife subjected to malicious whispers at the mall or Wal-Mart. I admit to using a school computer to communicate with former students. I did not bring up the subject of lacy Victoria’s Secret thong underwear, but merely commented on something that one of the students had written. To do otherwise would be a bad professional assessment. I’m a dedicated teacher and coach who is being persecuted by small-minded people over certain negative perceptions. I admit to sending inappropriate emails, but deny that I had sexual intent. My intentions were entirely innocent; I was using a library computer to search for a new school mascot and inadvertently drifted into fantasy art when the search engine arrived at several pornographic sites that should have been blocked. Later, while researching bodybuilding, I ended up on a site featuring partially clothed women that lead to pornographic options. Yes, I’m aware that a former student reported that we had an affair after she graduated. I would like to point out that she was eighteen and that no charges were filed. If my internet history shows that I began researching her when she was a sophomore, it was because I was her coach. Of course I sent her emails; I asked her to pray for me. She hurt my feelings whenever she acted in an unchristian-like manner and I felt demoralized as her mentor. I regret posting an icon on social media that showed the silhouette of a man committing suicide and commend the police for checking on my welfare. I did not pressure her, subtly or otherwise. No force was applied or intended. I kissed her on school property which was awkward because I’m married. High school girls imagine all kinds of things; the allegation that I was trying to arrange and engage in a confidential encounter with her is ludicrous. After she graduated I met her again through a phone chat line and agreed to get together with her because she sounded so deeply troubled. I thought she was 19 and had moved to another school district. The situation occurred outside of work and is a family matter, between my wife and myself. The girl has a difficult history and I was trying to mentor her. The school district is trying to turn my successes into something sordid. No time was spent in secret or in a grooming nature; she never showed up. All this scrutiny of my internet use is completely unjustified. Her mother warned me that she was unreliable and if the girl’s own mother trusts me, why can’t the school district? How many times to I have to say it? I’m great for kids.

Jana Harris teaches creative writing at the University of Washington and at the Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. She is editor and founder of Switched-on Gutenberg. Her most recent publications are You Haven’t Asked About My Wedding or What I Wore: Poems of Courtship on the American Frontier (University of Alaska Press) and the memoir, Horses Never Lie About Love (Simon & Schuster). Other poetry books include Oh How Can I Keep on Singing, Voices of Pioneer Women (Ontario), The Dust of Everyday Life: An Epic Poem of the Northwest (Sasquatch), and We Never Speak of It, Idaho-Wyoming Poems 1889-90 (Ontario). All are available online from Open Road Press, as are her two novels, Alaska (Harper & Row) and The Pearl of Ruby City (St. Martin’s). She lives with her husband on a farm in the Cascades.