I met Frankie the day I walked into his sixth-grade classroom as a fledgling student teacher full of fear and trepidation.
I had just spent two years assisting at a day care center and had decided to go to teacher’s college to become a kindergarten teacher. What was I doing in a sixth-grade classroom?
Frankie wasn’t hard to miss. He was sitting at the back of the class, leaning back on his chair with his feet up on the desk. A miniature Fonz, Frankie’s clothes were spattered with dried mud— not an easy feat in this frozen Canadian town of Winnipeg, where none of us had seen mud for months, only four feet of ice and snow. His hair hadn’t seen a comb in a long time and his eyes glared…
“Just try and teach me!”
The regular classroom teacher was wrapped up in trying to complete his master’s thesis, so the students were given individual contracts at the beginning of each week and then sent to the library or wherever else they could keep out of trouble to do “individual research.”
The teacher decided to give me the one group his conscience hadn’t let him contract out – the bottom math group – all boys, all restless and all as motivated to learn about math as I was to learn about hang gliding. Frankie was included. The teacher explained that Frankie’s only obligation was to show up every day. If he came, he got full credit, even if he only just sat there with his feet up.
Racking my brains for a math unit that could capture the attention of these nine rowdy boys, I was inspired to base the unit on fractions and taught it using recipes. We made everything from chocolate chip cookies to my one and only loaf of home-baked bread.
At first, Frankie hung out at the back of the group totally uninterested. Then I promised the boys a trip to McDonald’s for lunch for anyone who completed the unit. Frankie said that I couldn’t do that. I said I could and would.
Each day, Frankie became more and more involved. As the second week of my adventure with these boys began, a miracle happened. Frankie showed up, all scrubbed up and in clean clothes. By the end of the third week, all nine boys – including Frankie had completed the whole unit, and I realized I had to make good on the McDonald’s promise. Those boys had worked hard!
What a blow it was when I learned the school administration would not allow a student teacher to take students off school property. Frankie was right – I couldn’t do it. An even greater blow came as the classroom teacher handed me the most derogatory evaluation I would receive during that whole year of classroom teaching experiences.
Depressed and defeated, I apologized profusely to the boys, thanked them for all their hard work and packed up my materials. That last afternoon in their classroom was also Valentine’s Dance for the entire sixth grade. It was a true classic in the genre – all the boys stood on one side of the gym and all the girls stood on the other.
A handful of girls were dancing together at the girls’ end and that was it. Another student teacher victim and I sat up on the bleachers, savoring our last look at middle school before finishing the year back at our elementary school haven. Suddenly the ear-splitting rock-and- roll ended and a beautiful waltz filled the gym.
Frankie separated himself from the wall of boys, climbed the bleachers and asked if I would dance with him. All alone in the middle of the dance floor, with every eye glued on us, Frankie and I waltzed in silence. As the last notes faded away, he stopped dancing, looked me right in the eyes and said,
“Thank you for changing my life.”
It was not the magic of recipes and fractions. It was not the promise of a Big Mac. The only thing I figured had wrought the miracle was that someone cared. If I had changed Frankie’s life, so had he changed mine. I had learned the power of love, kindness and respect in a classroom.
This kindergarten-bound student teacher switched her major to special education and spent many a rewarding year teaching in classrooms in Canada and the United States searching out every Frankie I could find.
Thank YOU, Frankie, for changing MY life!
~ by Randy Loyd Mills ~