Kathie Francis: Educator Extraordinarie
Woman Role Model Writing Contest (June 26, 2013)
Some people think of their teachers as bodies with faces that they are sometimes forced to talk to. We’ve all had a teacher who we just can’t stand. Kathie Francis is not one of those teachers.
She is the soft-spoken, petite sophomore English teacher and yearbook advisor (among many, many other things) at Imperial High School. Kathie, or Mrs. Francis as she is most lovingly known, has been a teacher for the better part of 30 years and has built up a hearty reputation as one of the most respected and admired staff members on campus.
Mrs. Francis has lived in the Imperial Valley her entire life, with the exception of college (she attended Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.) and some years spent teaching in Oregon. The daughter of a chaplain, Mrs. Francis says she was taught that she would be a strong person from a very young age, with nothing stopping her along the way. “I was the oldest of seven children,” Mrs. Francis says with a twinkle in her eye. “I was very bossy; you learned to be bossy. When I was twelve, my mom went back to school full time, so I watched her juggle all of [her responsibilities], and then I watched myself do the same thing.” She describes her various leadership roles during high school: director of school plays, valuable member of the basketball team, senior class president, etc. It almost seems like Mrs. Francis was destined to become a teacher. More on that later.
During her time at Imperial High School, she has gained so much fame and popularity that she has her own catch phrase. When there’s a group of students who want to listen and listen NOW, calmly raise your own voice (but not very much) and command, “If you can hear my voice, clap twice.” The two claps are deafening, and the inevitable silence that follows is eerie.
However, despite her celebrity status, Mrs. Francis remains humble and is quick to admit that even she errs. “If I feel like I’m not at my best, I make sure and tell my students,” she explains. “I try really hard to make sure they’re getting the best, but the first thing to go is usually my patience. In all politeness, I let them know that if they want something from me, then they need to step up a little bit and get what they need.”
Even on her bad days, Mrs. Francis is still regarded as one of the nicest teachers on campus. She emanates warmth and kindness, and if you’ve ever got a problem, she seems like the right person to go to. With this responsibility come great expectations, which can be extremely hard to live up to. When there are 30 kids in a classroom and one of them needs a one-on-one, it’s hard to say no. “I can tell in their eyes that they need a talk, but I can’t give it to them,” Mrs. Francis looks down at her hands. “I feel guilty for not being able to be a better listener. However, I also know that there are other adults that can help, and I’m just one person. Sometimes, the burden is so strong, from what they tell me, that I can’t sleep at night.”
Her strong sense of morality shines through in everyday life, and she lives up to a code of honor that she expects her students to also abide by, or at least be aware of. Mrs. Francis explains that there are universal truths that we need to live up to. Through the use of her storytelling both in and out of the classroom (everybody looks forward to her speeches titled, “Stay Safe, Be Wise,” which are either a personal narrative or anecdotes about foolhardy former students, sometimes a mix of both), Mrs. Francis makes connections with her students; maybe that’s why she’s so popular. At the moment of this interview, about 12 kids were just hanging out in her room, even though it was 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon.
Remember how Mrs. Francis was destined to be a teacher? Since she was a teen, her father put her up as the teacher of Sunday school, where she would read Bible stories to 5-year-olds. That was the part she loved the most, was the storytelling; Mark Twain describes it as being a raconteur. When going into the job market, her father expressed that he wanted her to be a PE teacher, which she refused. Her first love was all things diplomatic, but she decided to be a teacher instead.
When asked about the thanklessness attributed to teaching, Mrs. Francis immediately corrected me. “First of all,” she says, raising a finger, “I have students who greet me every day, say hello, students who have never even had my class, who ask me how I’m doing, so I never sense that thanklessness in what I do. I love what I do; I honestly would not trade it for anything else.” Her eyes get misty. “I love seeing their faces light up when they grasp a concept, or when a connection is made, and my saddest moment is when they’re up until four in the morning doing something else and they’re physically there, but mentally they’re gone. I know I’m not going to reach everybody. The aging process has taught me that I cannot be there for every single student.”
Mrs. Francis concludes our interview by telling me how honored she is that I chose her, even though there are many worthy teachers at Imperial High School. It was because of this honesty and humility that I knew I had chosen the right role model. But before you go home tonight, before you make a bad decision, before you do anything, I want you to ask yourself: what would Mrs. Francis do?