FRANK BURD was nervous.
He sat with his head propped against the courtroom wall, his neck held rigid in the neck brace, his eyes gazing at the ceiling.
It was time for the Germantown High School teacher to confront the two students who attacked him two months ago, breaking his neck and unleashing a torrent of controversy over school violence.
When he stood in Family Court yesterday and turned to the teens who could have killed him, he didn't lash out, he didn't lecture, he didn't even raise his voice.
He showed them photographs of him and his family - to help them see him as a human being, as well as a teacher - and he wept.
"This one is my oldest son and my two grandchildren," he said, holding out a framed desk photo to the students who stood near him at the bar of the court.
"When I stop to think that it's possible they would never know me, something happened to me. It scared me. It scares me a lot.
"I was never scared. I was never scared at Germantown High School. I was never scared to walk into a class. I was never scared in my life. And I walk around now scared.
"When I'm driving in a car and a car comes close, when someone walks close behind me, I'm scared now. I don't like the feeling of being scared."
And when he showed them a photo of himself on the floor bleeding after the attack, he implored: "I don't understand, I don't understand this. I teach. I didn't do anything to you.
"I've become the poster boy for violence in the schools and it's not what I meant to be. I'm very angry and I'm upset," he said before being overcome with emotion and sitting down, prompting Judge Kevin Dougherty to call a brief recess.
Burd's speech came during an intense sentencing hearing for students Donte Boykin and James Footman - who both apologized in court to Burd.
The slight, soft-spoken 60-year-old teacher accepted their handshakes - and returned Boykin's embrace.
Judge Dougherty was less forgiving.
"Have we regressed to where it's now become sport to hurt our teachers?" he said in the stern, abide-no-nonsense manner he displayed throughout the hearing.
"Apologies don't take away the neck brace. Apologies don't remove the scars. Apologies don't take away the fears.
"Shame on you, gentlemen. Shame on you."
Boykin, 18, set the Feb. 23 incident into motion when he followed Burd into the school hallway after Burd took away his
iPod in math class - and shoved him.
"I acted like a child. I threw a little temper tantrum," Boykin explained yesterday.
"I pushed him because I was mad."
He shoved him again and then Footman, 15, who was cutting class and didn't even know Burd, punched him. Burd fell against a locker and onto the floor.
"I don't have no explanation," Footman told the judge.
Footman, whose lawyer described him as a "crack baby" who went to seven elementary schools as he was shuttled between homes, has been getting into trouble in school since he was 5 years old.
Dougherty sent him to a high-security state institution for juvenile offenders.
Boykin has never been in trouble and had been accepted by Kutztown College for its fall freshman class. He told Dougherty he wants to become a pediatrician.
Dougherty remanded him to George Junior Republic, a highly regarded, unlocked residential facility.
The placements seemed fair.
"It seems good to me," Burd said as he left court.
Burd's amazing grace is a reminder of what's lost when the likes of him are scared or beaten out of the classroom.
Boykin and Footman didn't just assault one teacher, or just commit a crime against society.
They stole something from all the students who may never get to be in his classroom, who may never benefit from knowing this gentle, devoted nurturing teacher - or others like him who might have been frightened away by the incident.
"I don't know what I'm going to do next with my life," Burd said after yesterday's ordeal was over.
"It's hard to imagine myself not teaching. But I don't know." *
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