Ivan Samkov

Every Time A Male Teacher’s Inappropriate Behavior Made Me Uncomfortable

Trigger warning: Sexual harassment

Oftentimes, society conditions little girls and women to be passive about inappropriate behavior that is aimed at them from male counterparts. It’s like we are expected to just accept the ways we are made to be uncomfortable, as if it is a rite of passage or simply a part of the female experience. It is so sickening. When I look back at my own moments of extreme discomfort involving men, I am genuinely disgusted by how many of these negative experiences took place within the American education system and how much of the inappropriate behavior was exhibited by the very authoritative figures who I should have been safe with. Here is a brief recollection of situations in which my male teachers have failed me in ways that had absolutely nothing to do with my grades.

1. In middle school, my locker was located right outside of a male teacher’s classroom. During passing time between classes, a guy friend stopped by my locker to return a borrowed book and gave me a quick hug before running to his next class. The teacher, who was standing outside of his classroom door, had witnessed our innocent encounter and felt it necessary to make the comment, “Remember, good things come in small packages. Like condoms.” The teacher then proceeded to wink at me before walking back into his classroom. This teacher was implying that I was sexually active simply because a boy had hugged me. His comment confused the hell out of me, because at the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. I was 11 years old.

2. My very first day of high school, freshman year, I was late to my Auto shop class. I had a hard time finding the room, but I was really excited to take that class because I wanted to learn the basics about cars and how to fix them. When I finally walked into the classroom, I was about five minutes late and all of the desks were taken. I was also the only girl in the room. When the teacher pointed out that there were no more seats available, a senior boy graciously slapped his lap and said, “You can sit right here!” Everyone in the room laughed, including the teacher, who would rather be one of the boys than a professional faculty member. The teacher then proceeded to tell me that I could just sit at his own desk because my presence in that room was probably the result of a scheduling error and I wouldn’t be in there for long anyway. I ended up walking out and going straight to the counseling office to request a schedule change because that teacher made it pretty clear that he would rather have an all-male class instead of making it a safe learning environment for the one girl who actually signed up. I had to miss out on an educational opportunity because of toxic masculinity. I was 14 years old.

3. During that same year of high school, I had a teacher who would sporadically talk about pressure points. Occasionally, he found amusement in randomly poking male students in specific spots on their shoulder or neck to make them tense up, using them as an example of where to find pressure points on the human body. One day, the teacher decided to use me as an example, and unexpectedly jammed his fingers into my back, between my shoulder blades. Of course, the “pressure point” he was going for happened to be in the exact same spot where my bra clasp was. I asked him not to touch me, but he kept applying more pressure. Being touched by him was weird enough, but the fact that he was touching my bra clasp (through my shirt) and wouldn’t move his fingers made me extremely uncomfortable to the point where I finally yelled “STOP, YOU CREEP!” Finally, he removed his hand/fingers from my back. It still creeps me out to think about the fact that the first man to ever touch any part of my bra happened to be my teacher. I was 14 years old.

4. In 11th grade, I had a substitute teacher for my first hour health class. When I walked into the room, he said hello and smiled at me, but not to any of the other students. I asked him if I could borrow a pencil (because I didn’t have one for the test that we were scheduled to take that morning) and he said, “Only if you promise to come back and visit with me when you return it.” When I awkwardly walked away and took my seat in the front row, he shamelessly looked me up and down in front of the entire class and said, “Oh, you’re a student?” It made me extremely uncomfortable. He thought I was a coworker and was trying to hit on me. I was 16 years old.

5. That same semester of 11th grade, one of my male teachers thought it was appropriate to pull me aside and inform me that another one of my male teachers had talked to him about me for about an hour during a phone call the previous night. I think this teacher thought he was being kind by letting me know that my other teacher was saying nice things to him about me, but I just felt super uncomfortable to know that two grown men were talking to each other about me on the phone for an extended amount of time outside of school hours. I felt that it was unprofessional to share that information with me, and unnecessary. Not to mention inappropriate. I was 16 years old.

6. One day, during my senior year of high school, one of the several teachers who helped run an extracurricular program that I was a part of pulled me to the side and said, “You’re going to make a great mother someday!” He meant for it to be a compliment in reference to a speech that I had just given to a room full of freshmen, but it made me extremely uncomfortable because he was projecting his heteronormative ideals onto me and assuming biological reproduction was even in the cards for me. There were a million other compliments he could have given me, such as praising me for my talent with words and communication, or acknowledging my strong leadership abilities, or telling me that I was going to do big things with my life. Instead, he implied that motherhood would be my crowning achievement. I was 17 years old.

7. After graduating from high school, I purchased one of those giant 5-foot-tall teddy bears from Costco. I posted a picture of myself cuddling with him on social media and a former high school teacher commented, telling me I should name it after himself. Mind you, this was the same high school teacher who I had previously been informed had talked about me excessively on the phone by my other teacher when I was 16 years old. Later that year, during my freshman year of college, I posted a status about how I was interested in a cute guy I’d met who had dimples and used proper grammar, and that same teacher thought it was appropriate to comment “I’m too old,” jokingly implying that I was talking about himself. I then spent the rest of that night responding to people blowing up my phone, denying the rumors when they asked me if there was something going on between me and that former high school teacher, because they noticed the way that he had been flirtatiously commenting on my posts since high school graduation. I was 18 years old.

8. During the last semester of my freshman year of college, I had an Anthropology professor who would always call on me to read aloud the parts from the chapter that had to do with the sexual behaviors of different species and how it was similar to human behavior. After the first few times, I picked up on the pattern and realized the only times he had me read a passage aloud from the chapter was during the parts that talked about sex. It made me uncomfortable. The guy who sat next to me even made a comment to me during class that he felt like the professor had a crush on me. This professor would also call me up to his desk at the end of class to talk about small, stupid things that were unrelated to class. Anything to keep me behind for an extra minute or two. One day, he even asked me what my astrological sign was, and then told me that his ex was a mid-December Sagittarius just like me. Another day, he kept me behind to inform me that he looked up my last name and discovered that it was of Scottish descent. He did so of his own accord, and it kind of creeped me out. The cherry on top of the awkward Sunday was when he added my name as a multiple-choice answer to a question on the final exam at the end of the semester. Once I walked out of that class for the last time, I never looked back. I was 19 years old.

It’s strange. While sitting here writing this, I found myself questioning whether or not some of these experiences were worth listing or if speaking up about them would somehow make me look bad, oversensitive, or overdramatic. How sad is that? As if telling the truth about inappropriate behaviors exhibited by grown men who should have known better somehow makes me the bad guy, despite having been a literal child in most of these situations. I hate how shame is so deeply ingrained in us that we have to un-brainwash ourselves just to speak our truth. It hurts to realize how much unlearning I still need to do.

I know I’m not the only person who has been made uncomfortable by people in positions of authority in the education system, and I know that these types of inappropriate behavior are not only exhibited by men towards girls and women. I know these unfortunate situations happen to students, regardless of their or their teacher’s gender. I can only write from my own personal experience as a girl who was repeatedly affected by the actions of various male teachers throughout my years of education. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help others understand that the similar situations they may be going through aren’t okay, and it’s not their fault. I hope my courage is contagious and my truth helps others find their own and share it without shame.