There was one teacher at my secondary school who liked putting his tongue in my ear.
That might not have been a bad thing. A tongue in the air can be a pleasant experience. Especially with someone you love.
But this was different. This was a teacher. Someone who should have known better than to put his tongue into a little boy’s ear.
I wasn’t so little, I was 15. But little enough to deserve being treated with care and respect. And he, aged 40 something, was old enough to know better.
If not by his age, then by his profession. He should have learned that putting one’s tongue in another person’s ear is something that’s reserved for intimate relations. And this was not an intimate relation. At least it shouldn’t have been.
As our PE teacher, he attended the changing rooms. Yes, he watched boys getting undressed and dress in gym kit ready for the PE lesson. He also watched us getting showered and dried after the PE lesson. He was a diligent teacher, he never took his eyes off us.
There was always a sense of tension in the PE lessons. There was something that didn’t feel right. And teachers are the ones who teach you what is right and wrong. This felt wrong.
He had his favourites. There was one boy he liked, a lot. He would let him shower in the PE teacher’s private changing room. We thought it was strange, but this boy, the biggest and most mature of the year group, never said no to the offer of showering in private. Showering his privates, in the PE master’s private shower.
I have no idea what the PE teacher got up to in his private changing room with the biggest boy in the year. But later, as an adult, I can imagine although I do not want to.
The abuse continued for years. Beginning slowly with a hand on the shoulder, or a hand on the arm to attract attention. It escalated slowly to a touch on the hand, a touch on the bum.
And then whenever he called, “Richards. Come here!”, I did as I was told. He was after all the teacher, and one is supposed to obey teachers. Even when it seems strange. Even when it felt wrong.
He would whisper in my ear, sometimes words of encouragement, sometimes words of correction, sometimes his tongue.
To anyone looking, the PE teacher was after all only giving me instructions, correction, or encouragement. Or was he?
Perhaps everyone got the same treatment? But I doubt it.
At school, reputation is everything. You might think it’s grades. It is not. They only count when you leave school. Whilst you are at school is your reputation that counts. My reputation was rapidly becoming “The one who lets the PE teacher touch him“. For every moment that I did not respond negatively, react or refuse to be touched, opinion grew that I must “like it”.
What chance had I then, a puny 15-year-old who seemed to have the most delectable ears, to say against the growing opinion that I was ‘a pouf’? Perhaps my lack of resistance was construed as encouragement?
However, even if I was the most encouraging 15-year-old boy on the planet, a normal teacher would’ve refrained from having stuck his tongue in my ear. Wouldn’t he?
And, I had to wonder if I did like it. Because I never said no. Not in any final way. I just squirmed. I think he liked that. I think it was part of his enjoyment to make me squirm.
He didn’t stop until I left school. I never called him on it. He was never called on it. Not by anybody. Not whilst I was at school.
Later, about five years later after I had completed my University degree and the Post Graduate Certificate in Education, I was ready to start work as a teacher. I returned to my old Secondary school and asked if I could teach there.
Some of my old teachers were still teaching there. Same old men and women that I had referred to as ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’m’ for seven years. Just a little greyer. Happy to see me. Glad that I had chosen such a noble profession.
And guess who else was there? Yes, the PE teacher. Now teaching Maths. His hair was thinning, his face was gaunt. He saw me, and knew that I could end his career with one word.
But I did not speak.
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