A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Frank Christensen--The Man from Viet Nam

Frank Christensen taught with me when I first began teaching in the Chicago Public Schools. He ran the drama club; I, the science fair and school newspaper. Another teacher I cannot remember ran the chess team. We wanted to change the culture of the school. When the award ceremony came, our trophies were huge. A year later the basketball team had a hard time recruiting players. Their trophies were always much smaller than ours.

Frank did Shakespeare and presented plays at the community center. This was no small thing. The school, Carver Middle, was at the east end of Altgeld Gardens, a housing project that remains to this day. (I revisited it recently--twenty-five years after I was tranferred from it--and it remains the same. The scent of violence is perverse enough to feel and I saw more police in that one neighborhood than I see in the area where I work in two days. And where I work needs police.)

A few years later I transferred to another school in the projects and shortly thereafter he went to another inner city school. But what a legacy he left behind. Thirty years later Frank is still in touch with students and parents from Carver.

Now he lives in Viet Nam. He came back home for a week before Christmas vacation and Friday he visited my school.

"Tell Mr. Brownstein the police are here," he told one of my students who hurriedly rushed to my classroom concerned.

"Mr. Brownstein, Mr. Brownstein, the police are here. They want to see you."

"Send him up," I said with just the right air of not caring at all.

"But it's the police. What do they want? Why are they coming for you?"

I thought they came because I had witnessed too much over the last two weeeks or that they wanted me to file assault and battery charges. I thought a number of things.

"Send them up," I repeated and a minute later in walked Frank.

"He's not the police," I told my student--and a few others who gathered with him. "This is Frank Christensen. He teaches school in Viet Nam. He's one of my best friends."

But they did not believe me.

"OK," I said, "he's my father."

I put on my coat and said, "I have outside duty. You want to come."

Of course he did.

All around students whispered police, police, police, Nr. Brownstein's father, Mr. Brownstein's father, police, police.

Nike had given away three hundred pairs of gym shoes. We had no problems. It was the day before vacation, every student had a bag full of Nike stuff, and so many parents came to pick their children up, it was a quick and painless dismissal.

It helped a lot that they thought Frank--the Man from Viet Nam--was really a cop.


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