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Tough Love discovers redemption in classroom Part 2

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Editor’s Note: This is the second and final part of a series about Lebanon Special School District teacher Greg Love and his book, There Is an Urgency.

By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

“I stalked Bobby. I began planning this whole torture-revenge plot in great detail. Then my brother, Matthew, came back in the picture. He was in prison in Virginia and trying to get back to Connecticut,” said Greg Love, an alternative behavioral teacher with Lebanon Special School District.

So he made a deal with his brother. He would send him the money to come home, but Matthew would then have to find Greg a gun to use on Bobby. As they were sealing the deal over the phone, Love had a change of heart.

“We arranged to meet up, and I had the money and was ready to go, and as I was hanging up the phone I had the realization that if I did this, meet up with Matt, then my fate was sealed, and I would spend the rest of my life in prison, and I screamed out his name and told him, ‘I’m not coming. Don’t ever call me again!’ and hung up the phone.”

The next day Love made a phone call to Middle Tennessee State University.

“Making a decision not to kill Bobby was very difficult as I was asking myself, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’ I decided that I was going to go to college. I got an application from MTSU. I told myself, ‘If I get accepted, I’m gonna move to Tennessee and reinvent myself and become a good person. If not, I’m gonna go ahead with the murder plans and kill Bobby.’”

The school accepted Love. He moved immediately.

STARTING OVER

While he has three biological siblings, he counts the Love family his true family. Jim, whom he considered his dad, died in 2003. He tries to visit Marie and her children as often as possible. On March 1, 2002, during his second year as a teacher, he officially took the Love family name as his own.

“All my students were calling me by my other adult name, and I hated it. It irked me every time I heard it. I called my mom (Marie) and asked if I could change my name, but she said, ‘You have to ask your father, Jim.’ He said, ‘You have to ask your brother.’ So I called Jamie and told him, ‘I’ve asked Dad and asked Mom. Would it be cool with you if I changed my name to Love?’ He said, ‘Hell, yeah, then we’ll really be brothers.’

“I went to the courthouse in Murfreesboro, paid $120 and got a court date and sat in front of the judge. He asked me why, and I told him my story of being in foster care, and he told me, ‘That’s a great reason,’ and I’ve been Greg Love every since 2002.” 

Love came to Tennessee in August 1995. His initial visit to the Volunteer State had been an act of vengeance.

“My best friend in high school had a brother going to MTSU who was a witness in a rape case. He was being harassed, and he called me and said, ‘Greg, I need your kind of help.’ I knew what he meant as I had beaten him up in high school,” Love said.

“I called his brother and said, ‘Is this really happening?’ Once he confirmed it, I told him that I would do it as a favor to him and drove to Murfreesboro and did this thing over a weekend. I beat up these guys and then I went bowling. The guys I came to help took me out and showed me around this tiny little town of Murfreesboro, and then I left. When I got to thinking about college, I remembered MTSU.”

So the 21-year-old freshman enrolled as an education major. What made Love decide to become a teacher?

“I wanted to help people rather than hurt them. I was really good at hurting them. I had this karmic debt that I had to make up to people. I thought, I’ll help kids.”

Only after Love began his student teaching did he notice there were special programs for students with backgrounds like he had come from. 

“I discovered these behavioral modification classes, and I thought, ‘Wow! that is what I want to do. Get in with kids with behavioral problems.’ I found out there were programs that were for kids like me.”

Beginning in 2000, Love taught for seven years in five Rutherford County schools. In 2007, he enlisted with the Lebanon Special School District.

“I wanted to get back in middle school,” he said. “I had worked all the way from kindergarten through grade 12, and I knew middle school was where my heart is. I liked that challenge and wanted to push myself and learn every day. Middle school is the toughest and most demanding but also most rewarding. Kids are in that transitional stage, forcing their independence but still needing that nurturing.”

Love, who lives in Nashville but plans to purchase a home in Lebanon soon, sees creating positive changes in students as his calling.

“To see a change in their behavior for the better is my goal,” he said. “When former students contact me, they thank me for being as disciplined and as regimented as I am and giving them structure. They almost always thank me for giving them the discipline they didn’t have. They hated it at the time, but now that they are grown, they realize this helped them in high school or some other part of their life.”

PUTTING HIS LIFE ON PAPER

Writing his memoir, There Is an Urgency, was painful but also cathartic.

“That has been something I had been working on for more than 20 years, trying to get this story out since I was a teenager,” Love said. “There were many drafts and many false starts but I could never get it out right. I was way too angry. I needed to get it out of me to let others know that these things happen. They happen to boys and they happen to girls.

“I wanted to give a voice to people who cannot talk about these things for themselves. There was an urgency to get that story out of me. I never slept better in my whole life like that night that I actually finished the first draft of the book. It gave me a sense of accomplishment for my life.”

His book, now in a second printing, was released one year ago.

“I thought I might lose my job because of the graphic nature of my book,” he said, “but Dr. (Sharon) Roberts (director of schools for the Lebanon Special School District) and Mr. (Scott) Benson (Walter J. Baird Middle School principal) were really supportive.”

One of Love’s biggest boosters is Hollie Johnson, his educational assistant who will earn her state teacher’s license in May and a master’s degree in education in December from Cumberland University.

“Greg amazes me every day. I’ve worked with him for almost two school years. I listen to him teach and make connections with students and am still amazed. His teaching style is unlike any other teaching style I have ever observed,” Johnson said.

“He really makes a connection beyond classroom education. He is very insightful and really knows how to read to students. I couldn’t have a better mentor for someone to model my own teaching style from. I consider myself blessed to be in his classroom every day. You can’t beat it. He changes lives every day,” she said.

For all his seriousness in the classroom, Love finds his outlet for fun in the kitchen.

“Cooking is my second passion,” he said. “If and when I retire, I would like to do some sort of small soup kitchen-type thing for homeless people. My specialty would be chocolate pie, but I love anything, the more complicated the better. I collect cookbooks and try to make as many obscure foods as I possibly can.”

PHOTO KEEPSAKE

Near the front of the classroom where he stands to teach, Love has placed a small framed photograph that captures himself and his brother Matthew as pre-schoolers. “I keep this here to remind myself of who I used to be,” Love said. “I get to show my kids I used to be a kid one time, too. It keeps me grounded, and the kids laugh because I’ve got hair.” 

There is not much hair left on his head, but inside this man who teaches with a passion born from a tortured past and a load of guilt, there remains much heart, more than enough to fortify his boundless supply of tough love.

Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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