Loved Because They Love

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They met on a mountain in Japan, two strangers from different parts of the United States on a summer vacation. They began talking during the descent from the summit. There was something comfortable about their conversation as though they had known each other for a very long time. By the end of the hike they had decided to meet again over a meal where they exchanged contact information for when they returned to the States. They were both teachers of English who enjoyed reading, writing and traveling but it was a long way from Texas to California, their respective homes. Still, they were fascinated with one another and the friendship continued and then blossomed into a romance. Before long they were married and she was moving to Texas where a job at the school where he worked awaited. They were and still are a remarkable team.

They are Eric and Jenny Brunsell and they have spent years living and working happily first at Paul Revere Middle School, then KIPP Houston High School and finally Taylor High School. Beloved to both their coworkers and their students they dedicate themselves to teaching grammar, usage, writing and literature. Their classes are fun and they have a reputation for being caring and fair. They plan together and grade together for most of the year then they take exciting trips all over the world during the summer. 

A few years ago Eric and Jenny agreed to sponsor the Academic Decathlon team at Taylor High School. The coaching requires and great deal of extra work on their part. They have to read and learn about whatever era or topic is chosen for a particular season. They often spend evenings providing extra practice for the members of the team and weekends accompanying the students to the competitions. The days and weeks of prepping the team and attending contests extend well beyond spring break. For Eric and Jenny it is fun and exciting to work with the students. They speak of their time with team with smiles that reveal how happy they are going the extra mile.

Each year Eric and Jenny have managed to take their team ever closer to a state championship. Such a feat requires great sacrifices of time and dedication on their part. They seem to revel in being able to provide the students with experiences that they will no doubt never forget. Coaches like Eric and Jenny touch the very hearts of the young people that they guide. That kind of extra effort never goes unnoticed. 

When I was in high school working on the school newspaper was the extracurricular that most enchanted me. Our sponsor often worked with us until late in the evening and many times all weekend long so that we might deliver an edition in a timely fashion. She gave us responsibilities but she was right behind us making sure that we did not fail. Seeing the final copy of our hard work in all of its glory was electrifying, one the grandest moments of my four years of preparing for college. It would not have happened without that teacher’s willingness to give us the gift of her time and attention.

So it is with Eric and Jenny, model teachers. They work hard to deliver interesting lessons and to show their students the fundamentals of writing and critically analyzing all types of fiction and nonfiction. More importantly they have genuine concern for each and every one of their students. They have been known to quietly go out of their way to help someone in a state of crisis, someone struggling to understand a concept, someone who just needed someone to listen and provide encouragement. Their students know implicitly that the Brunsell’s classrooms are safe spaces where everyone is treated with great respect and dignity. 

There are so many people today who act as though young people are silly, lazy, entitled, without a sense of direction. Eric and Jenny understand that nothing could be further from reality. They inspire their students and encourage them to follow their dreams. They are loved because they love. They learned long ago that they need not be stern and authoritarian to keep their students working hard. They need only be fair.

Three years ago Eric and Jenny’s home flooded during hurricane Harvey. Their community of friends and coworkers and students rallied around them in a show of appreciation for the wonderful educators that they are. The school hosted a shower to provide them with household items that had been ruined in the water. A group created a Go Fund Me page to raise funds for the cost of repairs. People opened their homes to them and offered the gift of their labor. Such is what happens when two people have a reputation for goodness and inspiration. 

Good teachers like Eric and Jenny abound but more often than not we mostly hear about those who should never have been in a classroom from the start. It’s good to stop now and again to praise remarkable people like these two whose impact on the world will increase and multiply as those they have taught make their own marks on the world, no doubt remembering two teachers who made a difference in their lives.  

The Abuser

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As a teacher I encountered some horrific incidents of parental abuse. My duty was to contact the principal, nurse, counselor or anyone who might have the capacity to help. Often the abuse was physical but most times it was in the form of hurtful words. It does not take bruises and broken bones to damage a young person and seeing the effects of an angry offensive parent always rattled me. 

I often think of a student whose father was a stealth abuser. For all intents and purposes everything about the young man’s home seemed wholesome and healthy but the fact that he almost always wore dark clothing, hung his head as though he was trying to disappear and hid his eyes with long hair made me suspicious that something was terribly wrong. I could tell that he was very bright because he did quite well in my mathematics class. It was one of the few times that I saw him engaged and enthusiastic about anything. Otherwise he was a kind of outlier, someone existing in the shadows. Most of his grades did not match what I knew to be his capabilities and he mostly appeared to be sad, perhaps even frightened. 

I scheduled an appointment with his parents hoping to find out if there was some trouble at home that might be impeding his academic and emotional progress. I wanted to know if there was something specific making him so unhappy. I hoped to make his parents part of a team that might work with all of us at the school to bring out the best in him. We were determined to get to the heart of what might be holding him back. Since we felt that the boy needed to be part of the discussion we invited him to gather with us in an office. Soon we were conversing pleasantly in an effort to get to know one another. 

At one point we were all laughing when the father looked at his watch and announced that he needed to move forward because he did not have time for “BS.” He glared at his son and pronounced, “I don’t understand him at all. He just sits in his room moping all the time. His mom let’s him get by with living behind a closed door. He is nothing like me. I like people and they like me. I don’t think he has a friend in the world.”

As the abusive accusations from the dad spewed like an overflowing toilet the the student slouched down in his seat and buried his head in his chest as though he was attempting to become invisible. The mother was wringing her hands and meekly defending her son while her husband talked over her attempting to drown her words and mocking her as the reason that they had a defective son. I tried to get control of the situation by asking everyone to calm down and noting that I had found the young boy to be exceedingly bright with a great deal of potential. I noted that we each have different personalities and that like the student I too liked to spend time in the quiet of my bedroom after a long day at school. I explained that the goal of the meeting was to allow the boy to express what he needed from all of us. I wanted him to understand that we all saw great good in him and we wanted to help him develop that while still allowing him to have the kind of personality that felt the most comfortable to him.

At this point the father told us that we were all wasting his time and that he believed that his son was hopeless. He looked at his watch again and asked if we could just wrap things up. Then without warning he looked at his son with a sneer and said, “Oh I forget to tell you. I got rid of your damn dog today.” 

At that point the mother quietly sobbed and the student clenched his fists as though he was wanting to hit his father. Instead he simply got up and left the room while everyone except for the father sat dumbfounded and feeling defeated. 

Abuse in the form presented by that father takes the air out a room. It destroys people and inflicts heartbreaking scars. It is foul and difficult to witness. What I saw that day has never left my mind. Luckily with the help of the young man’s mother and a dedicated group of educators we were able to provide the young man with a purpose and to restore his faith in himself. He demonstrated an incredible ability to work with people to plan and execute events. He ran for a class office and won. He ultimately found a way to escape the hell of his home and to travel around the country finding a role for himself as a happy adult. 

In many ways the first presidential debate reminded me of that situation. Our nation’s president showed himself to be more than just a schoolyard bully. He was like that abusive father in revealing his dark heart. It was terrifying to watch. Suddenly I could believe that he had once told his struggling older brother who was an airline pilot that flying a plane was like being a bus driver in the sky. I could believe that he had called military men and women losers just as he had done with John McCain. I saw that his disgusting “jokes” about women and disabled people were what he really believes. He is a man who wants to hurt, to get even for perceived slights. Like that father he intended to make disparaging remarks about Biden’s son. He wounds hearts with wicked glee. Somehow as with all abusers it makes him feel more powerful and power is all that really matters.

I have watched presidents come and go in my seventy plus years. I have liked some of them and felt that others were not up to the job. Never have I felt that we had a president who was so willing to be so purposely vile. He is our abuser in chief and it should frighten us all. Never should such behavior be excused nor should it be rewarded with our adulation or our votes. He himself may have a wounded heart that dates back to his childhood. I may wish him well in finding solace, but I will never agree that a person with such a defective mind should be in charge of my beloved country. 

During that first debate we all wanted to tell Trump to shut up if truth be told, but most of us would have been afraid to do so. As a mother, an educator and a human being I know in my heart that we all have to speak out when we see someone behaving in that manner. We have to hold abusers accountable for their wickedness. Our White House is dishonored by his presence. It is time to vote him out.