I have Franco* in a course I’m teaching for the first time this year, Foundations of Physics. FoP was designed to help students who really struggle with math and reading, identified by test scores, to earn their required Minnesota physics or chemistry credit. It’s a below grade level class filled with students who largely have been unsuccessful in school in the past, and is certainly has an overrepresentation of students of color**. Franco has to some extent been a thorn in my side. He’s boisterous, distracts other students, and won’t stay in one place. He’s also demonstrated that he’s very bright, and he has a great sense of humor.
Earlier in the year I mentioned that we were going to perform a lab over again, and Tahvo* stood up and said “Another one!” Franco was among the students laughing; clearly this was a thing. I ignored it and moved on. A few days later it happened again, then again a few days after that. Finally I asked about it. “Just Google ‘DJ Kahled'” they told me, snickering. Turns out it’s a short clip that’s fairly mild (I expected way worse) that has become a meme. So here’s the thing; I could have assumed they were laughing at me. I could have reacted. By engaging in conversation instead, we’ve now gotten to the point where ‘another one’ is a class meme. It’s helped build culture in my classroom.
Another time Franco put an ear bud in my ear; it was NWA, which I recognized (I grew up listening to NWA, Easy-E, and Dre, coming back now with Straight Outta Compton). I’m not immersed in hip-hop culture now, but I can certainly have a conversation with kids and show a bit of interest. When they put in their earbuds, I can engage with them rather than react against them.
Today after class Franco was one of the last ones out the door so I stopped him.
“Hey, what’s your plans after school?”
“I don’t know…I gotta figure that out I guess.”
“Yeah, well, you got a lot of potential. You could do something really great. You just gotta figure out what that thing is.”
“Dang, you don’t hear that from many people.”
You don’t hear that from many people. Meaning, most people have written Franco off and he knows it. He’s been unsuccessful for undoubtably a variety of reasons. But he’s still a kid, and he still deserves to be believed in. I can engage in his positives, rather than react to the negatives. I can choose to engage.
*None of the student names in this story are their real names.
**I’m happy that our school district is working hard to correct this, both by ending below-grade level courses except for those required for students to graduate off their IEP (including this being the last year of FoP), and by implementing an Excellence in Equity team to find solutions for our students we have traditionally failed to help.