Dear Decaturish – Former Decatur High School journalism teacher apologizes to students
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For almost two years, I’ve been working to understand the circumstances that resulted in the end of my teaching career at Decatur High School. I’ve also been working to acknowledge my own weaknesses and failures.
My public silence during this time should not be misconstrued as indifference. Family, friends, former students and their parents, and former colleagues and supervisors have all provided support, insight, and honesty. Thanks to these conversations, I have moved from refuting and questioning motives to soul-searching and self-reckoning.
I’d like to briefly respond to the recent coverage of my teaching suspension. In July 2017, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators assigned me an attorney who helped me take steps to protect my teaching certificate. The attorney who represented the state initially agreed with my attorney that the case didn’t warrant an extended suspension. She proposed that a 10-day suspension would be appropriate to recommend to the Professional Standards Commission. The commission rejected that, so we continued to prepare for a hearing. Last month, the commission approved her revised consent order that stated that “the respondent was accused of being unprofessional in his supervision of students.” I accepted the order’s 30-day suspension to avoid the anxiety and hardship that a hearing would have likely caused me and others who would have been called to testify. I was relieved to move past the drawn-out uncertainty, and I have no intention of returning to classroom employment.
I’ve come to understand, as I did not before, that my words and actions over 25 years caused a number of students to feel uncomfortable, excluded, and intimidated. Other students had a positive experience with me, shared appreciative notes, and remained in contact well after high school. It’s been challenging to reconcile these students’ high esteem for me with other students’ discomfort. I see now that my efforts to generate positive group dynamics were undermined by failed attempts at humor and disrespectful gestures of familiarity. Physical contact that I considered innocuous in group settings with both male and female students caused confusion and alarm. I’m embarrassed that my overconfidence led me to disregard the actual experience of many students. In the past, I’ve considered myself to be perceptive, but reading what’s been shared by former students reveals how oblivious and insensitive I’ve been.
My priority now is to address the pain I’ve caused. I would like to ask those I’ve made uncomfortable to continue to share their truths so I can better comprehend the impact of my actions.
I invite former students and parents to share their experiences with me at TellReese2019@gmail.com. I’m not prepared to weather mean-spirited assaults, and I ask you to write in a spirit of compassionate accountability. I’ve entrusted email moderation to a former student who is now a parent and has her own experience dealing with issues of harassment. She alone will have access to your emails – I will not. She will closely guard senders’ anonymity (unless directed otherwise). She will forward me messages without names or email addresses attached. She will also filter out purely spiteful communication so that I can focus better on listening to the pain I’ve caused. My goal is to read the messages she forwards to me with a receptive heart and to accept responsibility for my actions. I will not respond unless a response is requested. I want to learn from my mistakes so I can behave more sensitively moving forward.
I enjoyed coaching soccer and volleyball in my 20s and early 30s and appreciate how that experience helped me mature. I felt immense pride for the award-winning media program and tight camaraderie my journalism students developed. My teaching career was a true calling, and my staffs were my passion. This loss has been devastating and humiliating. To realize that I caused pain in the midst of experiences I valued, with students I highly respected, has shaken me deeply. I am very sorry for the ways my words and behavior negatively impacted students. I hope this letter and the invitation above will contribute to healing.
– Jon Reese