“Ms. Marlowe, can I talk to you?”
I looked up to see Frank walking into my classroom, wearing his basketball uniform. Luckily it was my conference period, or I would have said “no” and waved him away.
“Sure." He came in and stood in front of my desk. "You look nice," I said.
He nodded, which was not the response I was expecting. “So, um, I’m not passing your class right now…”
“Right...” I said. I like Frank. He's generally a good student, but he quit turning in his work about three weeks ago.
“But we have a game today, uh, you know."
“So, can you boost my grade so I can play today?”
"Frank, this is a joke, right? Because you know it doesn’t work that way.”
“Yeah, I know, but everyone says I have to play!” His eyes are wide, and he looks stressed. I feel sorry for him, but not that sorry.
I fold my arms. “Who's everyone?”
He held out a piece of paper. “The coach said if you sign this, then I can play today.”
I make a mental note to run Coach Hussain down in the parking lot later. “I can’t do that, and he knows it. The rule is that if you aren’t passing by the time progress reports go out, you can’t play for the rest of the six weeks.”
“The principal said it was up to you, that if you said it was okay, then I can play.”
Now I’m furious. I realize that Frank is the best player we have on our mediocre team, but it’s No Pass, No Play in Texas. TCS toughened up that rule, supposedly, because they wanted to emphasize the importance of academics. But it seems the administration is willing to cast the rule aside when it suits them. It's thoughtful of them to put the burden on me so the school "leaders" can say they followed the rules.
This little scene isn’t Frank’s fault. I know he told the coach he couldn't play, but the coach told him to suit up and try to convince me. Frank looks miserable.
I close my eyes for a second and shake my head. “I’m not going to do it, Frank.”
His face sags. “Please?”
“No. I already talked to you about not turning in your work, but you didn’t make any changes.”
“I’ll turn in all my work from now on!”
“I hope you will, but that’s not going to help you right now. I’m not going to break the rules because it won’t teach you anything.”
“No, I promise, it’ll be different! Please!”
I’m beginning to feel like I’m God, and he’s trying to bargain with me. I don’t like it, and I bet God doesn’t usually like it either. “You’re a senior, and you should know the importance of doing your work. I’m sorry that your coach gave you the idea that you could ask me to change the grade, but I don’t bend the rules.”
“But our team will lose!”
“And so will you, ultimately, if you think that asking me to bend the rules is a good idea.”
My conversation with Frank went on for 40 minutes, with him alternately begging or promising to do extra credit work that I didn’t offer him. Finally, Mr. Hussain, the assistant coach, came in.
“Come on Frank, it’s time!”
“I can’t,” he mumbled, “She said she won’t change it.”
Mr. Hussain glanced at me. “The principal said it was fine.”
“That’s nice. I don’t say it’s fine. It’s my class.”
“The principal said he could play because it’s an exhibition game. It doesn’t matter anyway. Come on Frank, let’s go!” He opened my door and walked out, with Frank trailing behind him. He turned to look at me before he left with confusion in his eyes. I shrugged.
The conversation with Frank embarrassed him enough that he did step it up a bit for the rest of the year. He managed to pass for the semester and later told me mine wasn’t the only class he was failing, but I was the only teacher who wouldn’t play ball, so to speak.
I wish this scene was an anomaly during my time at TCS, but it wasn’t. From what I hear from other teachers and have seen at CISD, letting athletes scoot by when it suits them is pretty common. We talk a lot about preparing students for college and adulthood, so maybe this teaches them that rules only apply to the “common folk.”
What did Frank learn? He learned that the people at the top can do what they want and invalidate everything a teacher tries to reinforce in her classroom.
What did I learn? I learned to make sure no one could find me during my conference period.