Yesterday I found out that one of my favorite teachers from elementary school is wrapping up a six-year jail sentence in England for molesting several young girls in the girls’ homes. In his spare time he was a babysitter in his town, Potters Bar, a suburb of London (unrelated: what a name), and would usually babysit while parents were out of town on vacation. None of those victims were his students, though who knows how many other children he abused over the years.
Theodore Hughes was a wacky science teacher with “unorthodox” teaching methods, as many parents and fellow teachers put it at the time. He was once given a warning because he liked to hug his students. This seemed to make some students and fellow teachers uncomfortable. I don’t remember any of us caring about it.
In his office he had all kinds of plants and gizmos and gadgets, and a copy of that photograph of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out blue-tacked to the wall. This picture summed up his attitude toward teaching: difficult science lessons taught in a fun and interactive way. I remember one class we calculated how many helium balloons it would take to lift one of us off the ground. We only got to play with one helium balloon during that class, but the mere idea of grabbing 2,531 colored balloons, or whatever it was, and floating off into the air was enough for us. I remember him standing there, holding the balloon, talking animatedly. We were all standing around, staring up at him, rapt. There wasn’t a lot of sitting down during his class.
Hughes was in his early 50s and married at the time of the crimes. His wife was pregnant with their first child. My mother can’t understand why anyone would let a middle-aged man without any children babysit their young daughters (the victims were all under eight). Disgusted at the news, I nonetheless explained that Hughes is exactly the kind of person you would entrust your children to. Now I realize that the single most appealing thing about him was that he seemed like one of us, only smarter.