Schoolgirl Crush

He was a popular teacher at Council Rock South — renowned for his dedication to his students. She was a high-school senior — pretty, smart, and going places. At a time when the divide between child and adult is harder and harder to find, was their next step nearly inevitable?

DURING THE SPRING and summer, after Hawkins had lost his job and the Bucks County D.A.’s office was closing in, he wrote to another girl, one in Jane’s graduating class he’d gotten close to, one who went to him seeking his guidance. He wrote several thousand words to her:

I miss you; I miss all of you so badly. … I miss YOU in particular. After first meeting you and getting to know you as a sophomore, where we established a basis for respect as teacher and student … we were BOTH so psyched to have each other again in your senior year. No, not just once a day … but twice!

And:
When all of my stuff is over with, I would hope we could talk, and maintain a friendship. You ARE in fact one of the most amazing young women I have ever met. …

One afternoon in mid-January, I share several pages along those lines with the girl’s mother, and she reads every word as we stand on her front porch. I know that her daughter’s friendship with Hawkins is ongoing, that she didn’t abandon him.

It takes the mother 15, 20 minutes to read it all. “I believe him,” she says finally. “I believe he cares.”

We talk, this mother and I, about how things have changed. She points out that relationships between teachers and students in advanced placement classes at a school like Council Rock are more like professor and college student — they spend time together one-on-one, get to know each other, share their lives. She smiles wryly over the risk in that: The students are so young, still, plus we always seem to be pushing back the lines of good taste and proper behavior. “Look at the smut kids watch on TV,” she says.

I share something she didn’t know — that Hawkins had dated other girls, just after they had graduated from Council Rock. And to me, those words he wrote the woman’s daughter come across as needy and strange, as if the girl he was once charged with teaching should now take care of him.

“But you still believe in Hawkins, as your daughter’s friend?” I ask her again.

“Yes,” she says. “Yes I do. It’s more complicated than people think.”

Later, I consider our neediness — as parents, we’re obsessed with the idea that anything we can do for our children, we must, because we should leave no stone unturned in giving them a competitive leg up. Hawkins helped this woman’s daughter through personal and academic problems, and the mother’s continuing belief in him strikes me as not just loyal but also practical: Hawkins tutored the girl’s freshman calculus class — her freshman college class — via video feed this past fall.

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