I am a product of D.C. Public Schools and a first-generation college student. Throughout my college years, I always wanted to be a teacher. I entered Johnson C. Smith University with the intention to leave as a teacher. I wanted to save a child’s life.
Can you talk about your experience at Friendship?
I was at FPCS Collegiate for 12 years and I’m now entering my fourth year at Tech Prep. I’ve taught algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, and pre-calculus. This is my second year as an instructional specialist.
What do you like most about being in STEM?
I like that I can teach our scholars about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I foster a deep appreciation for mathematics. I teach my students about the history of math that was previously unknown to them, and they get excited about it. The world is changing now and they see people that look like them in promising STEM careers. Our black girls see movies like Hidden Figures, in which they are represented in those careers.
Friendship Tech Prep is a premier STEM school. Scholars participate in STEM every single day, in all of their classes-from physics to engineering, and everything else. Students attend NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) conferences around the country, and they participate in our robotics team. They build electric cars, gliders, and model homes. We have students like Jerrel King, who won the DC Google Science fair with his instant laptop 2.0. Every single day, they’re doing amazing things in STEM. They’re zealously moving into the 21st century; they see the trajectory of this world and want to be a part of it.
Can you talk about your journey to becoming a teacher and instructional specialist at Friendship?
I am a product of D.C. Public Schools and a first-generation college student. Throughout my college years, I always wanted to be a teacher. I entered Johnson C. Smith University with the intention to leave as a teacher. I wanted to save a child’s life. If I could save one child, then my job would be done, right? Eighteen years later, I’m still saving lives via STEM education. I teach problem solving. I teach students that great things come from Southeast Washington, D.C. and, of course, Friendship Public Charter School.
Are there any strategies offered to you that stand out as you transitioned from being a biology major to a Pre-K classroom teacher?
Build solid relationships with students and parents. When I first started, the first thing my coach said was, “Get to know your students.” Yes, you have teaching standards to follow, but the way you teach and all of your activities will be based on how your students learn best. Their families will reinforce what you’re teaching at home.
Recently, I pursued a certification with the Gurian Institute. They study the brain and learn how boys and girls develop differently. I learned different approaches to ensure I keep my boys engaged-more than I had in previous years.
What are some ways to get boys to engage in learning?
Movement is critical. I make it my mission to add movement to most of our activities. We’re getting up and doing some sort of moving activity every 10-15 minutes. Even when we’re reading books, I will sometimes ask them to mirror me when I stand up and sit back down as I’m reading. To the observer, it might look really weird. At the end of one story, my principal said, “They actually sat down, got up, sat down, got up, and sat down again. If you did some other type of movement, they copied that too. By the end of the story, everyone was focused, everyone understood, and everyone answered questions.”
I also make sure I have books that interest both girls and boys. I make sure we have plenty of boy-friendly books about motorcycles, rocks, and other things typically based on their interests.
I also lead many lessons about empathy and understanding feelings. Boys learn to recognize how they feel, as well as the people around them.
What is the best way to inspire a passion for STEM in students?
It is helpful for them to see black teachers who are passionate about math. Also, success is not always about being smart-it’s about perseverance. I teach students how to stick with difficult challenges and struggle through their problems. I offer differentiated instruction, engaging lessons, and real-world applicability. Students may enter with apathy toward math, but they all leave my classroom as mathematicians.
What advice would you offer new teachers?
There’s a quote I really like by John C. Maxwell: “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The first thing you need to do is develop a relationship with your students. Once you do that, they’ll pretty much do anything you tell them to.
Also, some good advice for new teachers is to connect your content to the real world. The biggest question that our students have is: “Why are you teaching this to us?” They have to see the relevance of what you’re teaching. Anytime we are dissecting a math problem, I always bring it back to their lives and what they already know. I can talk all day long about parabolic equations, but it won’t sink in until I show how it’s related to the rollercoasters at Kings Dominion. If the lesson is not culturally relevant, there can be no student investment.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to share a Malcolm X quote that I’ve lived by during my 20 years in education: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
I encourage all my students to be life-long learners. We’ve built a strong college-going culture at Tech Prep and across the Friendship network. So many of our graduates are first-generation college students, who didn’t initially believe they would ever make it to college. We help them believe in themselves and offer them the guidance they need. We teach them, “Hey, you can and WILL do this.”
I’m still in contact with so many of my former students from over the years. I have even attended their college graduations. I’m proud to say that I’m still a part of their lives. We don’t drop students off and say “goodbye” when they graduate from Friendship. Their commencement is where it really begins, and our relationship deepens. Students reach out to me from college to let me know how they’re doing. Sometimes they say, “Hey Frankie, can you help me with this math problem?” Friendship spans beyond the four walls of our schools.
We are not only teachers, but mentors, mothers, Uber drivers… everything students need us to be. I attend baby showers and birthday parties. We are a part of our students’ lives and they know they can count on us. That’s what makes the difference.
Fact #1: I never miss a Monday to work out!!! To be honest, I hardly miss any day to lift weights.
Fact #2: The harder my day is, the harder I take it out on the dance floor. There is always a song and dance in my head.