After spending all year trying to get 18-year-olds to care about Anglo-Saxon poetic devices, 12th-grade English teachers secretly, in the depths of their hearts of darkness, look forward to the Senior Prank.
Senior Pranks reminds us that what we teach our students is, in the scheme of their lives, relatively unimportant. The "classic" literature, along with the contemporary, will be forgotten. But there are rare moments when teachers and students can come together and say, "Thank God it's almost over. Thank. God."
At the end of my first year of teaching, my students, inspired by an episode of The Office, created one giant MegaDesk. Instead of trying to engage them on the symbolism of their towering monument to conformity and the conglomeration of educational and corporate structures, I laughed. Chuckled. Smiled. I may have even high-fived. I took pictures, and I still look at them.
And at the end of my second year of teaching, everything in my room was covered in tin foil. I felt like Abigail Breslin in Signs, with her tin-foil hat, wondering whether to be more afraid of the aliens or Mel Gibson.
This year I had high hopes and expectations. What I got instead was an unexpected, cruel reminder of how much work we have left to do.
Keep in mind that this story takes place in the great Commonwealth (not state) of Massachusetts. We were the first to legalize marriage equality, and we now have some of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country. Here, I can openly hold hands with my partner and walk down the street and go out to dinner without the telltale second look. Here, my students were thrilled about Obama's announcement and saddened about the news from North Carolina, where they know I was born and raised.
With the passage of Amendment 1, I can't even comfortably teach in the place where I spent the first 22 years of my life. There, I could be fired, if I were hired at all.
So the day started calmly enough, with all of us faculty members wondering, wondering, wondering. We heard tales of a chicken being turned loose. Water balloon fights. An Anonymous-style hack into the bell-ringing system.
Instead, smiling with barely-contained anticipation as I walked upstairs, I saw a hurricane of flyers littering the stairwell.
Picture this: a photograph of another male faculty member coupled with a blown-up, biology-textbook-clip-art image of male genitalia. "I LIKE THAT" was written underneath, in bold.
I felt immediately sick.
I felt like I was on that paper, along with every LGBT member of our school community.
I, along with my students, gathered up all the flyers and dumped them in the recycling bin.
I spent the day reflecting on the openly gay students whom I've taught, all in liberal Massachusetts. And I can run down the list of their sad, predictable fates: Dropped out for a sight-unseen Internet boyfriend. Homeless. Kicked out by religious parents. In and out of therapy. On and off medications. Transferred schools because of bullying. Of course, these are just the ones with the courage to come out in high school, which I certainly never did. And these are just the stories that I know.
It helps to have the president in our corner, but the work ahead of us is so much more than marriage equality, so much more than passing laws and winning court cases. And on this day of celebration, there wasn't time to talk about the flyers. The bell rang, and the seniors left. Forever.
I can only hope that we taught them better than this, that there was only one person involved, and that teachers will continue to be bold in our assertions of what is right and what is wrong. And I am encouraged when I think about the students who were with me, who hurriedly picked up the trash, who looked absolutely appalled.