Friday, October 24, 2008

My Project: Frank

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.


egretsnest said...

Yea, once they leave school those "suspension" lists get more serious. Glad Frank has you in his corner.

I attended a seminar last week and the guy leading it has the same no arguing policy you do -- he calls it "No student lawyers." :)

Sandcastle Momma said...

I have to say that story warms my heart. Frank has no idea now how lucky he is to have you in his life - but he will one day. I only wish that every teacher would take a real interest in their student's lives. Can you imgaine the difference in this next generation if they all had someone who decided to work for and with them? The chances are high that something you've said to him will one day make the difference between him going to jail or not and he might see that he doesn't have to follow in his family's footsteps. Kuddos to you Mr FC - that Frank is one lucky boy!

swamp4me said...

You're right, FC. I can definitely relate to this post - lord knows I had similar conversations with some of the "Franks" I taught. Good luck to both of you as you navigate through this year and beyond. Maybe one day you'll open the paper and see a positive picture of Frank and some of his peers that he has influenced.

tai haku said...

Great post - he might not realise it yet but he's a lucky guy at least in one way.

Lynn said...

I wish there were more teachers like you. Good job.

debbie said...

You're a good man FC and Frank is very lucky.

Deb said...

This post really warms my heart. In a few years, I hope to see you write about Frank's graduation. You're a great teacher.

threecollie said...

Great job! The world needs more people who see the potential in kids like Frank. It is so heartbreaking when nice kids in bad environments lose everything because no one believes in them. I hope he makes it.

Sayre said...

Thank you. For being a teacher. For caring about students that are probably hard to care about in the crush of everyday situations. All it takes is one person believing and lives can be turned around.

Frank is one lucky guy.

Sharon said...

Thank you for what you do. I've said it before and I'll say it again - you were called to do what you do, and you do it well. Reminds me of the starfish story =)

Freste said...

It's all about the destination. The goal is just something along the path.

Your excellence as a guide is found in what others see in you that make them want to follow.

And sometimes a "hey" is all it takes for them to take the first step.

Great post, FC. Simply great!!

ImagineMel said...

Amen. And I do the same thing. I don't want to lose one to those newspaper pages.

lej619 said...

I can only say.. OMG and thanks for the GREAT work you do.

kathy a. said...

you are a miracle in frank's life. every kid, every one, needs adults behind them. he is several strikes behind -- behind his age level in school, those suspensions [and you know at least one of them was not his fault, but they add up to a reputation], and who knows what is going on at home.

you are treating him like a person, not like a problem. and maybe making the team will also help him get through. crossing fingers.

the troll said...

What percentage of your students have a Father living with them? By Father, I mean someone who MARRIED their Mothers. Not a DNA donor.

kathy a. said...

troll, maybe a more useful question is whether a particular kid has parents actively and constructively involved? i've known a lot of really great single parents. also known some families in the marital state where at least one could not care less about the kid[s], or -- far worse -- is actively destructive toward the needs of the child[ren].

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Your right: that's when you can catch them from going on the wrong path, and make a difference. All it takes sometimes is someone who cares.

Doug Taron said...

FC - Thanks for this one. I really needed a story like this today. You are awesome!

Dani said...

Your a wonderful man, and I hope too, that you'll see good things come from Frank.

Kimberlee said...

Great post, FC. Ditto on each of the other comments. I've got a whole class full of Franks. Yes...even way up here. It seems the ingredients for creating a Frank abound, regardless of geographical location.

I'm a sucker for all of those teacher/student movies. Freedom Writers is the most recent one that I've seen. I can't resist the hope that happy endings still exist for these kids. It encourages me to keep trying no matter how bleak things may appear. Unfortunately, as your story illustrates, results in real life don't come as quickly or neatly packaged as they always seem to in the movies.

Thank goodness for people, like you, who stay the course in spite of the illusive horizon.

Anonymous said...

You are just so cool! What can I say? Thank you for caring about Frank!

Cathy S. said...

That's one lucky kid, and you are one wonderful teacher. A teacher just like you pulled my son's attitude and grades up. He may make some more poor choices in his life (don't we all) but he will never forget Mr. F.C.

Anonymous said...

lucky kid, this heah Frank. Youse a fine teacher. even if thangs go south fer Frank, youse a fine fella.

AN'...back on carbo loading, --heh, yes!

edifice rex said...

I kinda know how you feel with this one. We often work with guys on work/release programs from the local prisons. Probably older "Franks". They are usually very nice men and good workers but, despite our trying to help them, often go right back to jail when they get out. They like to ask me for advice or just talk about their problems because I guess they enjoy finally being able to talk to a woman. We try to help them land full time jobs for when they get out but, as I said, they usually get in trouble again. We try though.

Ericka said...

yay for you! we need more teachers like you. :-)

Miz S said...

Being fair and kind and reaching out to a kid can make a real difference.

Funny how some kids tug at one's heart.

I hope you can reel this one in, Mr. FC.

snb said...

Great post. Good reading, but also true to the life I live. Doubt those who have not taught in public schools have much of a clue how these kids grab hold of us and occupy our minds and our hearts as we develop strategies to make ways for them to be successful in the classroom and, indeed, in life.

robin andrea said...

Frank is lucky to have you. How many kids just never get enough of that good attention, and then just slip away? Too many. I don't know how you do it, but I'm glad that you do. Way to go, fc.

Floridacracker said...

Wow, I stay away for a few days and you guys write the blog!

A few afterthoughts, but not 28 individual responses on this late Saturday evening.

Kids like this one are created by the environment they grow up in. It's so common to hear a teacher say "NOW I understand why Billy is the way he is, I just met his parent."
There's some horrible "parenting" going on out there folks and it's becoming more prevalent.
Public schools get a lot of flack, but parents get off scott free, even though the first 5 years with a child sets the stage for its future.
A single, unmarried parent can raise a wonderful child, I've seen it done by many, and two married slime balls can ruin a kid before he ever gets to middle school.

It's the active parenting, not the numbers or the certification. Although I would never argue that two, stable, loving parents get any kid off to about as good a start as could be wished for.

Sadly, many school admininistrators care only about data and testing thanks to NCLB. They are under extreme pressure to reach NCLB goals, often it is their job if they don't.
It's all about accountablility, not teaching.
NCLB does have a catchy name tho, gotta give the spinners that.

Thanks again for the abundant wisdom and diverse viewpoints above. It is all good.

Floridacracker said...

Okay, it was late and my comment could have used a little proofreading.
What I left off is that I'm not special, all the good teachers I know take on "projects" beyond their normal duties.

roger said...

you represent good teachers quite well. and remind us of the importance of education.

Felicia said...

Wow--I commend you for the good work that you do. Teaching even well-adjusted kids is tougher than it looks, and taking on special needs kids takes an extra level of compassion and guts. I'm rooting for both you and Frank!

Floridacracker said...

thanks. there are a lot of good teachers out there doing good works.

Thanks! I'd like to add your very birdy site to my blog roll. Welcome to Pure Florida!

BeeDancer said...

I just want to wish you luck and success with Frank...Now there's a whole group of us cheering for him to graduate

Anonymous said...

Bless you!