Former Troublemaker Is Teacher

John Racki CBS

Instead of finding stories as most reporters do, CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman uses a highly sophisticated piece of newsgathering equipment: a dart. He asks a person on the street to throw a dart at a map to help him choose where he'll go next in search of a story. Once there, he picks a subject at random from the phone book. The premise is that "Everybody Has a Story."

For the second time in a row, chance has chosen Big Sky Country. The dart managed to stick in a place called Musselshell County, Mont., where Hartman met John Racki.
For his part, Racki claims his life has not been really exciting. But if you just dig deep enough into a person's past, you always find something interesting.

When Racki was 16, he stole a briefcase from a high school accounting teacher. The briefcase was later found and returned to the teacher.

It was just one of many of his pranks. Racki spent a lot of his childhood in the principal's office. He even had his own chair there.
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Racki's mom says if it wasn't bad conduct, it was bad grades. "He was there a lot, a lot more than we knew about it. He just didn't give a darn," she adds.

"I'm sure when they taught me, they thought, 'There's no way that this kid will ever amount to anything,'" Racki says.

He graduated at the bottom of his class and went on to work as a roughneck in Montana's oilfields. One day a piece of drilling equipment broke loose, hit his head and may have knocked some sense into him.

After the accident, Racki was physically unable to go back to oil drilling, so at the age of 28, the legendary high school slacker did something that surprised even him.

He went to college, got two degrees and eventually landed a job at Roundup High. Racki is now the special education teacher. He works with kids with mental disabilities and other students who are just plain struggling.

"I had some difficult things to learn while I was growing up. I guess my job, I feel now, is to help young kids not make those same mistakes," Racki says.

Forteen-year-old Joey is fairly new at Roundup High. Last fall his mother put him in the school and in foster care because he was such a discipline problem. His grades were terrible and, like Racki before him, Joey was becoming all too familiar with the principal's furniture.

They've now been working together for five months.

"He's done wonders for my life," says Joey. "He's changed my life around. He knows that you got the potential to do anything. He'll do anything in his power to help you."

"He worked every day," says Racki. "He busted his butt because Joey ha a goal. There was something that he wanted to do. He wanted to go home."

And, as fate would have it, now he is going home. His grades improved and his attitude is so radically shifted, that he no longer needs to be there.

"You know, I felt a severe loss, but at the same time, I feel a great pride. Not for me, because I didn't do it. Joey did it," Racki says.

There goes one young man who will not have to learn about life the hard way. Thanks to an old roughneck, who turned out to be an old softy who's now considering going back to school again. This time to get a master's degree in child psychology.

Next stop? Nebraska.

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  • Tatiana Morales

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