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Eric Wahl

October 1997

"Spring-heeled Jim slurs the words: 'There's no need to be so knowing/ Take life at five times your average speed, like I do.'/ Until Jim feels the chill/ 'Oh, where did all the time go?'/ Once always in for the kill/ Now it's too cold/ And he feels too/ old."

--Morrissey, "Spring-Heeled Jim"

I've never been so glad to have been beaten to a punch than I was when I saw an Oasis essay from another teacher, made my day.

I, too, am a real, living, breathing teacher (egad!) who also inquired about the possibility of throwing a few thoughts your way. Jeff was kind enough to say "give it a shot," and so that's what I'll do this month.

Howdy from the often deservedly-maligned state of Kansas. My name is Eric Wahl, I turned 28 on the first day of classes and celebrated by, umm, teaching two sections of Composition II here at Emporia State University in surprisingly friendly Emporia, KS. I'll keep the personal info to a minimum this time because I've got IMPORTANT THINGS on my mind and they aren't about me (for a change). For now, I'll tell you I am a graduate of the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk, indeed, Patrick) and I have taught in 7th, 9th, and 12th grades in the U.S. as well as grades 6-10 in a private school in Ankara, Turkey. Right now I'm finishing up my Master's Degree at the state's teacher's college (while also teaching Comp. II, everybody's favorite course), and I hope to travel a good, long while after that until I find a city that suits me. I'm comfortably bisexual and can only roll my eyes when people, gay and straight, accuse me of fear of committing to one team or the other. I discovered Oasis in a very interesting way and that's part of what I want to tell you this month.

Our Turkish school crawled online in December of '95, apparently the same month as the Oasis debut. Desperate to communicate with my stateside friends on the cheap, I often went to the computer lab after school. One day I went in and found one of my students having some strange fit because he'd been walked-in on. Lo and behold and behold, I discovered Oasis. The student was 16, had good marks, and was painfully shy. I have no gaydar at all and I prefer not to rely on assumptions of others anyway, so this discovery was something of a surprise. He came out to me -- in Turkish. Yes, that was a first. I could have turned him in to the mudur (principal) for being in our lab, but he would have been beaten. Oh, did I forget to mention that at one of the most expensive private schools in Turkey kids get smacked as a matter of course? That, friends, is another month's essay. Kids cry so easily in Turkey and this kid was really quite scared. Imagine how alone you may have felt when you first suspected you might have been gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Now put yourself, with those same feelings, into a 98% Moslem country. Tough stuff.

I had a rough time in junior high and I recall well sitting in classes thinking what I would have done differently if I were the teacher or the administrator. Things changed in high school as I melded into the art crowd, but others weren't so lucky. I could "pass." At the time (mid-to-late 80's), I felt lucky for this. I wasn't picked on like those effeminate boys and "athletic" girls who were such obvious targets -- daily. When I think of that now, of course, I feel ashamed I let awful things happen to others because I was worried about my own hide. Imagine going to your place of adult employment -- insurance company, business office, whatever--and your co-workers malign you daily with epithets or, worse, physical violence. You wouldn't stand for it. Nobody would. If anything, you'd mediate or sue. Yet we have kids all over this country, and in plenty of others, who enter their schools -- places where they must be, by law -- and they can be targets of the same kind of abuse "upstanding citizens" would never tolerate. Schools let this happen. My 7th-grade counselor looked me square in my swollen eye and said, "What do you expect me to do about this?" This is a national tragedy. So, I became a teacher. Small steps.

I had no gay role models in the one place where I needed them most as a kid -- in school. It's really obnoxious of me to say I'm a role model and I'd prefer not to do so, but you get the idea. Problem is, school districts art not running around screaming "My kingdom for a gay teacher!" If you have the slightest inclination, I urge you to become teachers. We need you, folks. It's no easy road. People are so easily offended these days and a gay adult actually mentoring a minor is still very much looked upon as something akin to gross molestation. That's why we need to get in there and bust our tales to prove we're better than average AND gay. Religious right stealth teachers: some future essay.

I try to create safe and constructive environments in all my classes, whatever the grade level. I want students to see it's possible to talk freely and openly about everything under the sun without fear of recrimination. Education should not be about placing restrictions on what people who want to learn may talk about. I tell students on the first day that I do not exist to police their thoughts and opinions -- I try to teach them how to best express those thoughts and opinions in writing and speaking. It's amazing to me how surprised students here are to hear a teacher say something like that.

Lastly, I'd like to explain the song quote. I had a 9th grader come out to me during my first professional job. I was floored and exhilarated and scared. I've kept in contact with that young man ever since and I'm proud to say he's out and proud in his Kansas City high school. What scares me, though (and here's where the quote comes in), is that his crowd seems so reckless about their sex practices. More kids are coming out earlier than ever before and it seems they're living "at five times their average speed." No sermon here, but please, friends, BE SAFE. I don't want to lose any more of you.

Thanks for reading this far. Feel free to share any thoughts regarding our sick, sad, world with me at wahleric@computer-services.com


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