Lessons Learned
Outside of School

Chapter 4

There are two schools of thought about teachers reading students’ records. One school holds that a teacher should go over all the records of his incoming students before he meets his class in the fall. The other says that the teacher should first meet the students and then read the records once he can attach faces to them. I usually favor the latter, so during my free periods I had been going over students’ records.

In the morning, when I had a free period, I pulled the next folder from my stack and found it was Kirk Prescott-Browne’s. Since he was new to the school, I was interested in what his previous school had written about him. He had gotten excellent grades through the years. Teachers noted that he was particularly artistic and that he wrote very well. I also read that he had two mothers. He was my first student with that family make-up, and I looked forward to meeting his mothers at the parent conference.

The day seemed endless, but at last I was able to dismiss my class and turn my attention to my after-school meeting. The first two to arrive were Akram and his father. I’d asked them both to come because I wanted them to know what was happening.

Other students from last year’s class began arriving, and before I knew it, I had twenty of the twenty-three kids back in my room. One had moved away, one was sick, and one had a doctor’s appointment but said he wanted to be involved.

I looked at Beth and smiled. She had done just what I’d asked the night before and rallied the whole group. I’d picked Beth because I knew she was an activist at heart and would be very upset by what was happening to Akram.

I turned to Akram and said, “See? These kids all care about you and I hope we can work out a plan to help you.”

I thanked them all for coming, and then I described briefly but not graphically what had happened to Akram and why he was reluctant to return to school. Although Beth had passed the word the night before that he was being bullied, I did add just a few details. The kids were irate. They all started talking at once, and I let them continue for a few minutes before I called them back to order.

“Does anyone have any ideas about how we can help Akram?” I asked.

Immediately, Beth’s hand shot up as I expected.

When I called on her, she said, “I think that we should form a group to protect him and always be with him, in class, in the halls, at lunch, at recess. I don’t know who the bullies are, but I can guess. If we’re always with him, they can’t get at him.”

There were nods of agreement.

“How many of you are in one or more classes with Akram?” I asked.

Nearly everyone in the room raised a hand.

“How many of you would be willing to do what Beth has suggested?”

This time, every hand in the room shot up.

I turned to Akram. “If your friends did this for a while until the threat passes would you be willing to return to school?”

“I don’t think they should have to do this,” he replied. “I’ll be the only person in the school being watched, and I don’t want that.”

“They shouldn’t have to do this because the school should be protecting you,” I said, “but the school is failing you, so we need a temporary plan to defend you.”

We talked about it some more, assuring him that the arrangement wouldn’t be permanent and reminding him that the bullies needed to be stopped. If they were attacking him successfully, there was no reason why they wouldn’t attack others.

He thought again and finally agreed to try it for a week.

“Beth,” I said, “you know the setup at your school better than I do. Would you be willing to organize the troops?”

“Sure,” she said, with a grin. “I’d love to.”

“Okay. When you’re doing it don’t forget vulnerable times like dressing for PE and then showering. Also, somebody needs to be with him in the restrooms.”

“I’ll take care of it,” she said. “Could we have some paper and pencils?”

I made the materials available and she gave paper and a pencil to each kid, telling them first to write down what classes they had with Akram. Fortunately, the school followed a regular schedule, so the classes were held at the same time each day except for those, like art and music, which were in a block period and only met once a week. There were study halls on the other three days.

It took some time to get everything organized. Beth made a big master sheet of who would be with Akram in each period and who would go with him from one class to another. When everything was settled, I asked Beth to keep me up to date each day and thanked them all for coming.

Everybody except Akram and Jamal left, chattering happily. I sat down with the two of them and asked, “What do you think?”

“I’m overwhelmed,” Jamal answered. “I don’t know most of these kids because Akram never brings anyone home, but clearly they all care about him.”

“It’s worth a try,” Akram said, “but I’ll be really nervous in school tomorrow.”

“Remember,” I said, “there will be kids riding with you on the bus both ways and there will be a group meeting you at the school door to take you to your locker and homeroom.” I laughed. “I wish I could be there to see what happens. It’s going to be like a big school of fish swimming together through the hallways.”

Aram and his father both laughed, and Jamal asked if I would join them for supper the following evening so Akram could report on the day. I accepted happily and turned to my work as they left together, Jamal’s arm around Akram’s shoulder.


When I finished my work the next afternoon, I drove to the Midanis’ home where I was greeted at the door by a smiling Akram.

“Good news?” I asked.

“Yes,” Jamal said from the living room. “Come in and Akram will tell you all about it while you and I have some wine.”

Seated with a glass of wine, I listened as Akram talked.

“It worked just like you and Beth planned it,” he said. “There were three kids who all sat very near me on the bus. Nearly the whole class met me at the school door and went with me to my locker. You were right. We were like a school of fish, and everyone else went around us.”

We all laughed.

“During the day I always had at least four kids with me, usually a lot more. When I had to use the restroom, three boys used it at the same time. I was afraid that might be embarrassing, but it wasn’t.

“There are five boys from last year’s class in PE with me, so that wasn’t a problem. I was kind of embarrassed being naked in the showers at first until I realized that nobody was paying any attention to me.

“The whole class commandeered three tables right near each other in the lunchroom and we had a great time.

“During the day, there were some kids who asked me what was going on and I told them. I think some of my escorts told kids as well.

“I did see the boys who had bullied me in the restroom, and I pointed them out to my escorts, so now everyone knows who they are. At the end of school before I went to the bus, I used the restroom with three friends. The bullies were there. They looked at me and my escort and just left.”

“I think we can probably stop this in a week or so,” I said. “By then, other kids in the school will have asked Akram’s escorts what they are doing and most of them will probably be aware enough to protect him if there’s trouble.”

During supper, another delicious meal of unknown dishes, Akram asked, “Do you have a boy named Kirk Prescott-Browne in your class?”

I knew he was trying to be nonchalant with the question, but I could see some real interest in his eyes.

“Yes,” I answered. “He’s new to the school this year but he seems to be making friends easily.”

Akram smiled a little. “He moved in just two houses down from us,” he said. “I met him the other day when I was in front of the house raking some leaves. “He seems like a friendly kid. I even invited him into the house for a snack.”

“That’s a first for Akram,” Jamal said.

“Did you know Kirk has two mothers?” Akram asked.

“Yes. I haven’t met them yet, but I do know that.”

“That’s so cool. If Dad ever marries a man, I could have two dads.”

“Right,” Jamal said, “but don’t get your hopes up. I don’t have anyone in mind.”

I simply smiled.

After Akram had gone to his room to work on homework, Jamal got us both another glass of wine and we sat together at separate ends of the couch.

“When Akram said what he did,” Jamal began, “I couldn’t remember whether or not you knew I was gay, but I guess you know now.”

“Yes, you told me before.”

“Good. I don’t like to keep secrets, although I hope Akram won’t mention the idea of two dads to his friends at school.”

I thought about what he’d said concerning keeping secrets. We were silent for a few moments until I sighed and said, “Since you don’t like secrets, I have to tell you that I’m gay too. You’re the first person I’ve ever come out to except my family.”

Jamal smiled and nodded.

“The reason I’m not out to others is that being a gay teacher can be tricky. Not all parents will approve.”

“But don’t you think people are enlightened enough nowadays?” he asked.

“I think there are still people who don’t see the difference between a gay man and a pedophile.”

He nodded. Then he moved over on the couch, so that he was right beside me. He took my hand and said, “Well, I know you’re no pedophile and I’d really like to get to know you better.”

I was surprised. I hadn’t realized until then that he had feelings for me.

“I’d like that,” I said quietly, “but how can we proceed with Akram in the house?”

“Slowly, I guess. I know he already thinks you’d be a great dad and hopes you’ll keep coming over, but let’s not rush things. We both still have a lot of thinking to do.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes before Jamal turned to me, turned my face towards him, and kissed me gently on the mouth. Being a closet gay, I had never been kissed by a man before. I savored the sensations for a moment and then gently pulled his head towards me, making the kiss a little firmer.

We sat like that for a bit and then, when we heard Akram’s footsteps on the stairs, we quickly pulled apart.

Akram came into the living room and saw the two of us sitting side by side. Smiling a little, he said, “Dad, can you help me with this math problem?”

Jamal helped him and Akram returned upstairs.

“He didn’t need any help with that problem,” Jamal said. “He just wanted to see what was going on down here.”

I laughed before saying, “Sneaky kid. I didn’t know he had that in him.”

“Oh yes,” said Jamal, “he can be very sneaky when he wants to be.”

We talked a little more before I said I had to get home as tomorrow was a workday. At the door, Jamal held me tightly and kissed me again. This time I felt his tongue exploring my lips, so I opened up to him. We stood, hugging and tonguing for a long moment before I pulled away, smiled, said, “Good night,” and went out the door to my car.

At home I tried to sleep but I was wide awake, and my mind was going too rapidly for me to really relax. When I had tossed and turned for more than half an hour, I went to the kitchen, poured myself another glass of wine, and sat thinking.

Two hours later, rather drunk but happy, I finally got to sleep.