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The Most Feared Teacher in the History of Beverly Hills High

The following excerpt is from an inspiring new memoir, The Bastard of Beverly Hills, from JIA Publishing Group, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and wherever fine books are sold.

Mr. Hale was menacing—a carbon copy of boxer Muhammad Ali, with beefy forearms, scarred knuckles, and a perfectly cut Afro. Even his chubby cheeks looked mean. He sat the entire lecture, staring at us like plebs. We were terrified of this man.

“Open y’books,” he’d say in his baritone, snorting as class began.
He never told us what page—just open y’books.
Licking his chops, he’d continue, “Okay. Photosynthesis…”
It was monotonous, bell to bell. Only fear kept us from falling asleep. The best and brightest, including my sister, flunked. But neither Kris nor I could stand the thought of summer school. After class one day, we decided to approach the stoic figure.
“Mr. Hale?” I asked, swallowing my words.
He turned around like a medieval hangman, a small gold cross around his neck.
“What do you boys want?” he asked, tapping his fat fingers on a Bunsen burner.
“Uh. Mr. Hale. Uh. We were wondering—”
“Wondering what, boy?” he roared, his walnut eyes widening. “Spit it out!”
“If there’s something we can do. To get a better grade,” said Kris.
Mr. Hale leaned against a lab bench and stared at us for a few minutes.
“Tutoring. Every Thursday. Lunchtime,” he said, expressionless.
Nodding, we backed out of the classroom like we’d stared down a grizzly.

Yet we showed up each week and broke bread with that surprisingly magnanimous man—the only two kids that year to take him up on the offer. He made us laugh and took a genuine interest in our future. And we learned!
But when the final came, he proctored like a corrections officer. Nobody dared to cheat. Everybody finished early, including the valedictorian, who threw his arms up and shook his head as if a great injustice had occurred.
“Since we’re all done, how about we grade these?” Mr. Hale asked, waving the tests in the air and looking at Kris and me. “Boys, go on up and put these things through the scantron machine.”
He handed us the tests and answer key, and we dashed into the stairwell to the second-floor teacher’s lounge, where they kept the computer.
Halfway up, Kris grabbed my shirt.
“Wait, Rafie. Mr. Hale’s trying to tell us something,” he said, a devious look in his eyes.

It made me skittish that he was proposing we cheat. But I wanted it to make sense. We’d built a rapport with Mr. Hale, and he liked us. And I’d never gotten a better grade than Marleigh. We sat on the steps and agreed to update our answers.
“Try to miss some, so it isn’t obvious,” Kris whispered, hurriedly filling in the ovals.
“Okay,” I replied, ensuring a few were incorrect.
We ran the tests through the machine, returned to class, and tried to slip away.
“Hold on there, boys. Hold on,” Mr. Hale said. “Let’s see how everybody did.”
Kris and I gulped as he began reading the results. They were worse than we expected—even the valedictorian barely passed. Finally, he came to our names. Our scores were ninety-six and ninety-two, respectively. The class erupted, knowing something was awry. But Mr. Hale shut them down by slamming his fist on the table.
He removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes for an eternity, and said, “Boys. I’m gonna ask you this one time. You have anything to tell me?”
Kris and I turned to each other, guilty as all hell.

The next day Mr. Hale let the class go early but held me back.
As he scribbled in his grade book, I shuffled towards him in my oversized hoodie.
“Where’s your little friend?”
Kris hadn’t shown up. Neither had several kids that day.
“I’m not sure, Mr. Hale,” I answered truthfully.
“What y’all did yesterday, proud of it?”
My stomach sank. Not because I thought he might fail me but because I’d betrayed his trust. He lowered his reading glasses and addressed me like a son.
“Been teaching this class for over twenty-five years,” he stated, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Hale.”
“No, nope. Don’t apologize,” he said, pointing at me. “You’re not the first. Not the last. But what you need to learn here, and I’ll tell your little buddy this too, is this—anyone can spend life lying—all of it. Might even get away with it. Might even get away with lying to me. Never happened yet. But that doesn’t matter because you’ll never be able to lie to yourself.”
He wasn’t just right.
He was the greatest teacher I ever had.

I retook the exam at lunch and scored a B+. He dropped it to a D, a penalty for my academic dishonesty. I wouldn’t see the man much after that, but his words would stick with me. At the time, though, his mercy and wisdom weren’t enough to get me on the straight and narrow. I was incorrigible…

Read the rest of the story in The Bastard of Beverly Hills!

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