Every now and then I find myself thinking of a former student. For no singular reason, the memory of one will just pop in my brain and I relive my relationship with them. Today it’s Frank.*
*(Insert obligatory disclaimer about names have been changed; but really, after fourteen years of teaching, there’s probably not too many names I haven’t had on my grade list so what’s the point?)
Frank was a taller than average kindergarten student and had meltingly beautiful eyes and a very sweet smile. He was enthusiastic about everything and often clapped his hands when happy. His attention would wander sometimes, as is the right of every kindergarten student, and when brought back on topic he would look as if he’d woken from a lovely dream. Frank could get carried away a little bit (see: kindergarten rights and privileges) and one day I saw the tell-tale hand flapping and something-not-quite-connected-look that signaled an underlying issue. But Frank continued to be gentle and loving and readily ushered into first grade.
Come third grade, Frank was even taller and his best friends were girls. He still had his hand-flapping moments and still had his beautiful smile, but sometimes got very frustrated when people didn’t understand him quickly enough. We shared some special moments and our agreement was that if he was going out of bounds and saw me raise an eyebrow, that was the signal to stop and breathe. He confided later that it was easier for him to see my eyebrow than to hear another teacher yelling at him to stop, and I felt a profound sense of identity with Frank. How many of us would find it easier for a quiet, trusting signal to get a point across than a harshly yelling voice indicating a breach of trust? Frank was my inspiration to find those little reassuring signs for many other students and ultimately for my own children.
When Frank was in 6th grade, he was very tall, had an adolescent’s soft moustache, still had girls as best friends, and was more in control of himself. He earned excellent grades and was sweet and sincere. He tried out for the school musical and I was so proud of him; especially since he auditioned with a song and he really didn’t carry a tune all that well. (okay, not at all, but he was so sweet!) I cast him in a role of a silent king, and when he asked how he was supposed to act without a voice, I showed him examples of grand gestures. “Sometimes, Frank, you’ll only be able to use facial expressions to show the entire audience what you mean.”
Frank got very excited. “You mean, this time I get to be the one using my eyebrows to tell you something? This is going to be so awesome! I love this part!”
I have so much to learn from Frank.