God Saves a Math Teacher from Self-Inflicted Disaster

I sincerely believe in the goodness of people, and I think it’s human nature to want to offer help when something bad happens. Early in my career as a junior high school teacher I had the best of motivations when I got involved in a situation that could have backfired horribly and literally ruined not only my career, but my future. How blessed I was that God was watching over me—and that a potentially horrendous outcome was averted.

After graduating from college in 1970, I taught junior high school mathematics and photography in Wayne, Michigan, for six years. I found it gratifying and fulfilling to teach not only an academic discipline, but also an artistic one—especially since photography is one of my greatest avocational interests. After school I also coached football, wrestling, and track, which allowed me to see and interact with students in a different and fulfilling capacity.

Even then my passion was to impact the lives of young people. I remember often driving home with a smile on my face, thinking about how I had done my part in helping to change the world from the bottom up by positively influencing even the very small subset of America’s youth enrolled at Franklin Junior High School. Unfortunately, the principal of Franklin was highly ineffective and had an almost neurotic need to be loved by the students, often at the expense of his relationship with the faculty. Teachers sending students to the office often found themselves embroiled in an argument with the principal, who invariably defended even the most egregious behaviors of unruly students. As a result it was an undisciplined and dysfunctional environment.

There was no deterrent to inappropriate behavior because students knew in advance that the principal would defend rather than reprimand them. During a home basketball game after school one afternoon, a particularly unfortunate incident occurred. The visiting basketball team was using the girls’ locker room to change clothes and secure their belongings. While the game was being played, some Franklin students entered the locker room and stole watches and money from the visiting team members’ lockers. The visiting team’s coach was understandably livid at the lack of security in the locker room and reported the stolen valuables immediately following the game. I had attended the game that day, and the next morning when I learned of the theft I recalled seeing a couple of our students who had particularly bad behavioral records hanging around that locker room during the game.

I reported what I had seen to the principal and suggested we call in the students for questioning. The principal refused to do so, claiming I had no definitive proof—only my suspicions. He didn’t want to antagonize potentially innocent students based on suspicion alone. Given the principal’s weak disciplinary history, I was not surprised at all by his reaction. Nonetheless his response, however predictable, was extremely frustrating, since a criminal offense had been committed against visitors to our school and he seemed unwilling to even investigate. I felt it was the last straw in terms of administrative incompetence and I was determined to do whatever I could to gather proof of student misbehavior to support tough disciplinary action moving forward.

My obvious motivation was to bring the offending students to justice and to help prevent something like that from happening again. However, in my enthusiasm to do just that, I didn’t even consider how terribly wrong things could go—but God did, and how blessed I am that He was watching over me.

I decided the best place to start my detective work was at the next home basketball game. I devised a plan that would make it impossible for the principal to avoid confrontation with suspected culprits.

Before the next home game, without telling anyone in advance, I prepared my 35-millimeter camera with a paparazzi-style zoom lens and large flash attachment. Once I arrived at the gym, I waited for the visiting team to dress and go out to the court. Many students and faculty members saw me there but no one gave me a second glance—there was nothing suspicious about the photography teacher carrying camera equipment to a sporting event. But instead of entering the gym to stake out the best spot for game photographs, I stayed in the hallway outside the girls’ locker room. Once all spectators had gone into the gymnasium to watch the game and the hallway was empty, I surreptitiously entered the locker room totally unnoticed. I was in!

Once inside, I strategically positioned myself in the first of several shower stalls that provided a perfect view of the long row of lockers. There were no curtains or shower doors to impede my view. On the other hand, a person standing in any one of these shower stalls was completely visible to anyone walking in to take a shower. As I waited in the stall closest to the lockers, I began to delightfully anticipate the fear on the faces of those Franklin students caught on camera in the act of pilfering the opposing team’s temporary lockers. It also gave me great satisfaction to realize I would be able to produce the incontrovertible proof the principal demanded—proof that would finally force him to act responsibly.

I waited quietly for several minutes until I finally heard the locker room door open. This was it—I would shortly have proof! My heart began to beat rapidly as I heard many lockers opening and closing. I quietly made sure all my camera settings were appropriate and slowly leaned out of the shower stall with my eye in the viewfinder, ready to focus and snap a series of pictures of the thieves in the act of greedily emptying the pockets and wallets of the visiting team’s clothing.

What happened next profoundly shocked me—and could have quite literally led to my ruin. While I never could have anticipated it, God did, and in His mercy protected me against my own foolhardy actions.

Much to my horror, instead of seeing junior high school delinquents through the camera viewfinder, caught red-handed, I saw about fifteen girls from the volleyball team changing out of their uniforms and standing there in their bras and panties. I hadn’t had even a second of warning—they had not been talking at all, probably because they had just lost their volleyball match.

In an absolute panic, my heart racing, I darted back into the stall as quietly as I could and began to think through my options. There was nowhere to hide: there were no shower curtains on these stalls and I was in the first one. If even one girl decided to take a shower, I would be discovered. I found myself trapped in that eerie silence with no time to think, and the decision I needed to make had the potential to change my life forever.

If I yelled out to reveal myself, surely the girls would have recognized my voice.  Even if they didn’t, hearing a male voice in the locker room would have caused mass hysteria among the half-dressed adolescent girls. Some may have rushed out of the locker room unclothed, to even greater embarrassment, while others may have screamed or summoned the coach for help. Once clothed, they most certainly would have waited outside the locker room only to see Mr. Sievert, the math and photography teacher, emerge with his powerful camera equipment.

A second option that seemed viable to me—though one with significant risks to my future career and standing in the community—was to remain silent and confront the possibility of one or more totally naked junior high school girls stepping into the shower stall and encountering their math teacher, crouched down on the tile floor, clutching his impressive camera equipment. I remember thinking in that frightful moment hearing that girls of that age are generally embarrassed by their pubescent bodies. That knowledge gave me hope that none would want to shower in the communal locker room.

I decided to remain silent. I crouched in the corner, praying and waiting for what seemed to be an eternity. The sounds of zipping duffel bags and banging locker doors gradually faded awayand the room eventually became completely silent. My heartbeat returned to normal and the blood began to flow once again into my white knuckles. When I was certain no one remained in the locker room, I slipped out totally unnoticed.

Chagrined over having done something so stupid, I didn’t tell anyone—not even my wife—about the incident for two or three years. Later, sufficiently distanced from the ordeal, I did reveal it to my wife and a couple of my fellow teachers. At a teachers’ reunion more than thirty years later, I learned that my story had become part of the school folklore, at least among the faculty.   Who knows how my life and career might have changed if just one girl had decided to take a shower? I suspect I would have been fired or suspended or much worse.  Who would have ever believed my story of doing legitimate detective work in the girls’ locker room? And how would the courts have viewed it if any of those girls’ parents had pressed charges? And how could I blame them? Being the father of three girls myself, I probably would have had little sympathy or tolerance for such inexplicable behavior by a junior high school teacher.

Even then, it was evident God was protecting me—even against my own innocent but foolish behavior. I have thanked Him countless times over the years for allowing me to escape that nightmarish situation and the devastating impact it most certainly would have had on my life.