Reframing my identity after my teacher was arrested

A student describes how a teacher uplifted them and then disappointed them, and how they learned to move on with the support of another teacher.


I will always remember my high school experience for better or for worse. I suffered through virtual learning my junior year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was particularly burdensome as an art school student.  

Classes like dance and orchestra didn’t translate well to Zoom, so my school made attempts to lift our spirits. The most liked was “Fun Fridays,” in which students could participate in activities, like yoga and gaming instead of their normal classes. I wanted to start watching more movies, so I joined the film club.  

The film club was led by my AP Language teacher that year, Mr. S. I already enjoyed being in the classroom with him because of how approachable and understanding he was. Each week we shared opinions about a movie we watched, but the real appeal of film club was the time I could spend with a teacher I loved.  

From the film club to AP Language, Mr. S was what kept me signing onto my laptop every morning because of the positivity he brought to my school day and his willingness to get to know his students.

Mr. S was also the first teacher who made me believe in my writing. He encouraged my creativity with his class projects and praised my stylistic choices I was insecure about. 

He pushed me to think critically and interpret his class material at a higher level, which no other teacher in my high school was willing to do. Most importantly, he was one of the few sources of positivity during COVID. His validation and support ultimately made me want to become an English major in college.  

My memories with Mr. S quickly soured when he was arrested in June 2023 for eliciting child sexual abuse material on Snapchat. Reading the details when they came out made me nauseous. 

I felt deceived more than anything, but I also thought I was culpable. I spent so much time praising his teaching and personality, which led to my peers getting closer to him. I had to grieve the memories I had of him and cope with his conviction for harming the demographic he taught.  

Mr. S taught me the fundamentals of writing and how to make a cogent argument, all of which I still find myself using in college. I lost interest in everything related to studying English after his arrest because I associated it all with him.

I wish I could sever Mr. S’s influence from my love for English and writing, but because he was such a formidable force in my high school years, forgetting him isn’t feasible.

The best I could do was bury the image I had of him and focus on the wholesome memories I had with other school staff. I had another AP English teacher, Ms. H, who I was only able to properly appreciate after Mr. S was arrested.

When I took her class in person, she gave me the same support as Mr. S, but it impacted me more profoundly. She challenged my beliefs and allowed me to contemplate course texts with more complexity than any previous teacher had. She let me stay after class to talk more about the book we read that week and express any thoughts I couldn’t share in class. She would just listen and nod sometimes, but having my insights heard was all I needed.  

I often ate lunch in Ms. H’s classroom, asked her about her weekend trips and begged her to see my favorite movies. I cried in her chair when I was overwhelmed by school or had issues with a teacher, but she hugged me every time and had a full box of tissues in her hand.    

My favorite memory from high school was reading Hamlet with her. She sat at the front of the classroom and directed willing classmates to act out the most dramatic scenes, complete with foam swords and accents. Her love radiated from the high wooden chair she sat from, and I realized I should be cherishing her instead of Mr. S.    

I always knew that Ms. H was my favorite teacher at my high school, but I never gave her as much credit as I should’ve. At the time, the positive affirmations I received from Mr. S were more powerful because I was desperate for male validation and put too much weight on the positivity he brought to virtual learning. 

I spent so much time ruminating over the year of school I lost because of COVID that I kept gleaning over Ms. H, the most authentic teacher I’ve met with such a passion for what she teaches.

I still keep my copy of Hamlet on my desk to remind me of her. I look at it to remember why I’m an English major and the support she’s given me even after graduation. She’s invited me to advise her classes on their senior research projects, and she’s always willing to read anything I write no matter how messy the draft is.  

As much as Mr. S is responsible for what I’ve chosen to pursue, Ms. H pulled me in the same direction just as hard. I’m still not healed from Mr. S’ arrest, but I’m not sure I need to be.  

Traces of his influence can be found in what I write, which will always make me grimace, but I realized he’s not the sole reason I chose to pursue literature and writing. I had a teacher more dedicated, empathetic and influential than him. Ms. H’s class and the moments we had together are the ones I reminisce on with the most love.

Ms. H wrote me a note in my yearbook before I graduated in 2022. It read, “You’re going to do amazing things in college and I hope you change other people’s lives like I hope I’ve changed yours.” She has more than she can comprehend, and that’s what I’ll focus on instead of him.

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