I met Frank last year when I physically pulled him off of another kid during a schoolyard fight.
(and you wonder why I do all those pushups)
At the time, I had a duty station between 4th and 5th periods on an outside corner walkway. My job was to be a presence, herd strays, and generally put out fires.
Frank and the other kid were just one of the fires.
You could hear them talking trash long before they got to me, and it wasn't long before they erupted into full physical combat.
I got in there, broke it up, sent one kid up to the office ahead of me, and worked on cooling Frank down.
His glasses were askew, his cornrows were crooked, and he was hot. We gave the other kid a chance to get to the office ahead of us. Just so you know, Frank is black, the other kid white, but this was not a racial fight ... we really don't have those at our school ... they are just fights.
(New teachers who break up a fight will often send them both to the office at the same time which usually means they walk about ten feet and start fighting again, so you always send them individually)
Frank and I walked slowly towards the office. We didn't really know each other.
He certainly knew I was Mr. FC and I certainly knew his name from the many times I had read it on the suspension lists.
I asked him what happened and it was the usual story ... " we bumped in to each other coming from gym and he started mouthing off ... blah,blah, blah" ... Jeez, I have heard that a million times.
I told him to keep his cool when he had to explain his story to the Dean and just be honest.
I dropped him at the Dean's office ... away from the other kid ... and went back to what was left of my 5th period planning time.
Before I did, I stopped to hear the story of the other kid and it was clear within 2 minutes of conversation that this was a severely emotionally disturbed kid. We see a few of those each year, very aggressive, an inability to handle any conflict without violence, and usually low cognitive ability to go with that stew of emotions.
I had no doubt after talking to the white kid that even though Frank was no angel, he was probably only defending himself this time.
To the school, it doesn't matter and Frank got a 3 day suspension from school the next day.
I started saying "Hey Frank" in the hall as he passed my door between classes after that. He looked surprised the first few times ... especially if he was with his home boys, but after a while he'd manage a quick "hey".
During the remainder of the school year, Frank would wind up in trouble often, some pretty serious stuff too. I heard him say once as he passed me at that same outside duty station that all his family before him had been to jail so he expected to go there too.
This year Frank landed in my class.
I confess that when I saw that name on the clean white computer generated class rolls at the beginning of the year, I thought "Damn, here we go".
He didn't disappoint my expectation at first (that's the thing about expectations) and we had some conflict.
What he didn't count on is a teacher who is fair, but will NOT argue with a student once a warning, or instruction regarding behavior is given.
You see, we don't argue in my class, and I tell them that the very first day.
I tell them, " We are not the same. You are the child and I am the adult teacher.
We do not argue.
If we have a problem, you'd better talk to me in a civil manner because the second you lose it and want to argue over my instruction to you, that's insubordination and you are leaving for the office where you can argue with the Dean about how unfair Mr. FC is ... 'cause my job is to teach not argue."
(You do realize I'm talking about classroom managment issues and not philosphical issues ... they are free to debate any point in a lesson)
So, Frank ran up against that policy a few times at first, but when he saw I meant what I said, he settled down and his behavior began to improve.
He did not become a model student instantly ... this is real life, but he improved ... and most importantly, we began to build some rapport.
I let him sit up close to the projector screen and marker board, because he's nearsighted and never has his glasses ... I think that is by choice ... he's not destitute judging by his clothes. It's more of a vanity thing.
Sitting up there seemed to help him focus both visually and mentally and he began participating in class.
One day, he told me, " Mr. FC, You kinda mean, but you're nice about it."
That's when I knew we were making real progress. To me that statement says volumes.
Frank is old enough to be a freshman in highschool, but still in 7th grade so obviously he has some motivational and skill level issues, but he is a bright kid.
As the weeks went by, Frank really improved and his sense of humor began to come out with little comments and probing teasing of me. As a kid, you have to be careful about teasing a teacher as some have short fuses ... mine is real long as long as you don't cross the disrespect line.
Then you are toast.
Anyway, things were looking up and at one point, while going over cell functions for the umpteenth time, he announced, "Mr. FC, you REALLY want us to learn this don't you?"
"Yes, Frank, we're not just killing time here."
He did learn it too and scored well on a short quiz over cells.
It wasn't all good news however.
Once again, Frank's name showed up on the Out Of School Suspension (OSS) list.
It seems the school security camera's had caught him inciting a fight between two other students and out he went.
Dang it Frank!
When he came back, I pulled him aside to talk about making smart decisions and he asked me to help him make up a test he had missed during the OSS.
So we studied together and he passed his test ... not a 100 or anything near it, but a solid B minus.
He came to me to thank me because with that grade and his other generally improving subject grades, he had qualified to play football on the JV team.
I told him, " Don't thank me, you took the test. Now you just need to keep doing what you are doing now, it's working for you. NO MORE SUSPENSIONS!"
I also told him he was my project and that I was going to see that he made it to graduation.
He asked me why.
I just gave him a pat answer about the potential I saw in him and that was okay with him.
What I couldn't tell him is that over and over again, I open the paper to see the"ARRESTED THIS WEEK pictures of former students ... former Franks ... that the local drug culture has claimed.
Most you could have predicted back in middle school when they started to go bad. Most were from broken or dysfunctional families.
Most were young black kids.
Most didn't listen to advice given while they were in our classrooms or sitting in the Dean's office.
Most were just like Frank.
I'd like to not lose this one.