Nashville’s public schools have had a difficult time finding substitute teachers, even raising pay to alleviate the shortage. But one of Metro’s most popular subs has been around for 30 years — and that was after a long career in education. The children know him as “Mr. Frank,” and, at 91, he can still command a classroom full of children.
In a first grade class at Hickman Elementary in Donelson, Frank Michanowicz begins like he always does — by having each child take a turn at the white board to write their name. His peers may be slowing down, losing energy and memory, but Mr. Frank is still sharp.
“I am memorizing your names, so Mr. Frank can call you by your name,” he says.
He playfully asks the children about their plans for the future.
“I want to be a teacher,” one 6-year-old girl answers.
“You’re going to take my place, right?” he says.
They’re pretty big shoes to fill. With a masters degree from Peabody, Michanowicz moved to Europe in 1955 to work as a teacher and principal at Department of Defense schools for 30 years. He retired back to Nashville in his 60s, but he had a different idea of retirement than most. He got a job as a substitute teacher — and he just never quit.
“I can see children need people like me,” he says.
There aren’t many his age still working in the classroom, and that puzzles him. “If they’re good at what they do, they should be there helping them out because the children need us.”
The children respond well to this grandfather, who keeps his energy up by swimming laps twice a week. School counselor Shannon Harrison says the kids are taken with him.
“Even kids who are automatically disrespectful to subs automatically respect him,” Harrison says.
Michanowicz still gets around to the children’s desks to look over school work, but his age catches up to him in the hallway where he uses a cane and the children rush ahead.
But the stories he can tell: “I don’t think there’s another school in the country that has a working WWII veteran at their school,” Harrison says.
A Navy man in World War II, Michanowicz can still vividly recall incidents from more than 70 years ago, including a raid on U.S. ships in the Pacific.
“I remember that we were way out at sea and we had all these five destroyers, two on each side and one on the back, escorting us to the beach,” he says. “All of a sudden these Kamikazes came up, one came, then two. They told me later it was 30-some planes that came one at a time. Then all of a sudden this destroyer that was on our starboard side was hit and within five seconds the destroyer turned over.”
More typical for a man his age, Michanowicz took a spill in the cafeteria a few months ago. He took some time off to recover but came back to work as fast as he could. He sees no reason to dwell on the fall and really can’t understand the fuss over his age. He’d rather talk about the children.
“When I see their smiling faces, any class I go to, it’s wonderful,” he says. “They say, 'Mr. Frank is back.' ”
He feels needed. Even after more than six decades in education, the kids still give him purpose.