Teachers, Mobsters, Oh My

April 2, 2015 0 By Michael
A former teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools is handcuffed and lead off to jail after a jury found her guilty of racketeering in a cheating scandal that  tarnished the Atlanta brand. Photo Credits: Atlanta Journal & Constitution

A former teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools is handcuffed and lead off to jail after a jury found her guilty of racketeering in a cheating scandal that tarnished the Atlanta brand. Photo Credits: Atlanta Journal & Constitution

I went to bed last night shaking my head in disbelief. I woke up this morning feeling odd and thinking that teachers and mobsters used in the same sentence is an incongruous thought.  Surely, I had dreamed that 11 teachers in the Atlanta Public Schools had been convicted of racketeering in an organized crime scheme to defraud Atlanta inner city children out of an education.

How can this be? How is it that teachers in Atlanta have been elevated to the level of Al Capone,  Mexican drug cartels, and other slimy creatures whose conduct leave death and destruction in their wake?

I am biased, after all I was raised by a school teacher, Elaine Harvey, who put 35 years into educating other people’s children, oftentimes in school districts with little parental involvement. She would have stayed longer in the profession, but around the late 1980s parents continuously complained about stories she used to motivate their children to  learn. “Who do she think she is,” they would complain to the principal. So she went home and worked with her grandchildren.

Harold Michael Harvey teaching a course in Business Law at Rutledge Business College in 1982.

Harold Michael Harvey teaching a course in Business Law at Rutledge Business College in 1982.

I’ve taught both on the secondary level and on the post secondary level. In 1974, I taught fourth grade in the same fourth grade classroom that I had been a fourth grade student 14 years before.

Since I was the only male teacher in the school I was given many of the underachieving fourth graders and only three or four high achievers. It was a chore to teach that class. early I found that traditional teaching methods would not work, so I devised stories about the student’s history and ancestry in order to motivate them to learn.

It worked. They felt better about themselves. They paid attention. Discipline problems were down and their test scores were up.

The other teachers began to complain about my unorthodox teaching methods. It was not what they had been taught in school and my students were doing better than theirs. So the principal in the middle of the term relieved me of my duties. He said he needed someone in the classroom with an undergraduate degree in elementary education.

Carlton Justice was a fourth grader in the class I taught at Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School in 1974. Years later he found me to say he appreciated  the classroom instructions he received.

Carlton Justice was a fourth grader in the class I taught at Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School in 1974. Years later he found me to say he appreciated the classroom instructions he received.

Thirty years later, two of the students in that classroom tracked me down on Facebook and told me how bewildered they were after I had been unrooted from their classroom. Both of them credited their brief time with me as being key to their success in life.

Teaching kids to be successful in learning the life skills that will contribute to their success is what education should be.

Today, education, like it was in 1974, is more about fitting students into a formula and if they can master it, the leaders of education can pat themselves on the back that their educational stewardship passed the test.

The only thing that this backward approach to teaching leads to is the criminalization of the teaching profession. In our ever changing world seeing teachers handcuffed and carted off to jail like mobsters is a sign of the deteriorating fabric of our society. Shaking my head is about all I can do.

 

Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com