Yes, it was a long time ago. It was a VERY long time ago. Elementary school ended at the ripe old age of twelve, or said differently, at sixth grade. Looking back, there was yet, so much to learn. At the time, it seemed like I knew nearly everything which was truly important to know.
Though I had yet to be introduced to the finer issues of trigonometry, I was already fluent in the issues of life: how to detect the difference between the good people and the not-so-good. There were kids to avoid on the playground at recess. Mom said we are judged by the company we keep.
Look in your holding cell on a Saturday night and you know that is one of life’s truisms.
There were people of authority (a/k/a: teachers) who drew me like a magnet and others who repulsed me like a puddle of vomit. Look at the supervisors and bosses with whom you must interact on the job and that axiom remains true to this day.
HOW DID HE BECOME A TEACHER?
Mr. P. taught fifth grade. At that time of my educational experience, I pretty much stayed in one classroom for the day with the exceptions of gym and music classes. Occasionally, on a trip to the boys bathroom, I would pass by the classroom of Mr. P.
That could be a disgusting experience if he was in the process of reprimanding a young male student for a transgression which had angered him. There would be loud yelling, . There would be demeaning insults. There would likely be the sound of the youngster’s body hitting one of the bulletin-board covered walls. I’d feel badly for the kid, even though I didn’t know his identity. (Teachers could do those kinds of things back then.)
I was only a mere child in third or fourth grade, then. But, I knew that I certainly DID NOT want to be in the classroom of Mr. P. for a whole school year. I knew that I couldn’t be good enough for an entire year to escape the miserable trauma of one of his tirades.
WHO WAS THE BEST?
I attended a high school reunion a few months ago. I spent the evening enthralled in conversation with a few folks that I had known since first grade. .) The girl who was the object of my first love (in second grade), asked: who was the best teacher you had in elementary school?
I blurted out the answer, knowing it instinctively: Mrs. Hendricks. There could be no doubt. She taught sixth grade – our final year in elementary school – the one which would launch us into the adult world of Junior High School the following year. It was her job to ensure that we were ready for the Big Time.
She was strict. She didn’t have many rules, but you’d better not even bend (much less break) the few that she did have. She insisted that we perform at the limit of our individual ability – or just a tad beyond it. She didn’t accept excuses for poor performance. She expected the best and was truly disappointed when we failed to meet the mark. She took a personal interest in each one of her students, on an individual basis.
Of course, she knew our all of our names. She even knew the names of our siblings. She had spent her own time to get to know our parents. She invested her time without limit to be certain that her students had the best learning environment, the best tools, the best materials and above all: the best support a teacher could ever give her students.
Did she have a ruler that could whack an errant student, when needed? You bet she did. Did it get used often? Hardly ever.
I was only twelve years old. But, I knew “good stuff” when I saw it.
Upon learning that I was assigned to her class in the fall, I entered with some trepidation. That year would not be easy. I wouldn’t skate by on my laurels. Not with Mrs. Hendricks. But, I also knew that I wouldn’t be embarrassed, demeaned, belittled or treated poorly by a teacher who had the authority (but not the personal constitution) to do all of those things.
If there was one key attribute that summed up Geraldine Hendricks it was this: she demanded respect FROM every one of her students. She first gave that same respect TO every student from whom it was later demanded. There is a very good life-lesson that I learned from Mrs. Hendricks. It could serve all of us well, today.
I CAN’T DO MY BEST, ANYMORE
With the arrival of many of today’s law enforcement publications, I am saddened by the professionals in our community who seem to have become dysfunctional. Worse, some of them are in leadership roles, to boot.
Budgets and our ranks are shrinking faster than a pile of snow in June. We can’t do a good job any more.
Politicians have made public-sector unions and pensions into whipping posts to get reelected. We can’t do a good job any more.
The mentally ill are no longer being cared for by mental health agencies, as they were in the past. They have now become a burden for law enforcement. We can’t do a good job any more.
Of course, there is the “occupy” movement who seems to curry favor with politicians one day and we are told to “look the other way” when they break the law. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail, the political winds shift and the cops are at fault for not enforcing the law. Politics is having too great an effect on the cops. So … we can’t do a good job any more.
If I’m not doing as well as I did in times gone by, it must be the fault of someone else. I certainly couldn’t be held personally accountable for my actions or results.
WHAT ROLE DO YOU CHOOSE?
There are those in our midst who expect failure. And, that’s generally just what they get.
Their attitudes are sour. They are constantly scanning the horizon to discern what or whom will cause them to fail. Their water glasses are NEVER half full, but always nearly EMPTY.
They miss days of work too often. They are the recipients of complaints from otherwise solid citizens about their attitudes or actions. They have become embittered with life and with the job. They seem to thrive on being unhappy – maybe downright miserable.
There may be other symptoms: trouble at home, affection for the liquor bottle, or spending time with a girl friend while his wife tends the kids at home.
These are the cops who, like Mr. P of my childhood, use their authority to demean and maybe abuse others. It isn’t bad enough to cost him their jobs, but it is bad enough to make the good among us uncomfortable.
ARE YOU LOOKING FOR AND EXPECTING SUCCESS?
If so, it will likely come your way. No, not always. But, it will most of the time.
My faith teachings taught me to strive to hold a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA). Mom always said that life looks better when looking at it through a smile – rather than a frown. She was right.
Every day, we come across citizens who have lodged themselves into a pile of manure. Walking away, looking away and doing nothing are always an option.
I think of Mrs. Hendricks at the beginning of each new school year. Was every kid in her class a natural winner? I suspect not. Were there some known screw-ups with lots of previous discipline problems? I bet there were. Did she put them off in an corner while she focused just on the “good kids?” You can bet your backside that never happened.
She took control. She gave each student individual respect and demanded it be returned. No excuses. No exceptions. No nonsense.
Today’s cop is expected to do more, to work harder, to have fewer tools, employing fewer resources and yet produce a better outcome that his predecessors.
Based on their attitudes and constant whining, some cops have surrendered before they reported to roll call.
Others expect to win. They expect the community they serve to win. They expect every person to win. Even the people they arrest for bad behavior can one day win -- in the proper setting and with encouragement.
OUR ATTITIUDE WILL DETERMINE OUR ALTITUDE
Losing breeds losing, It breeds failure. Said in another way: nothing breeds success like succeeding. Amen.
Failed, negative attitudes by cops can create miscreants who can hurt everyone around them. Failure and a sense of ‘nothing-to-lose’ is often at the root of a criminal mind who hatefully takes the life of one our brothers/sisters in blue in the line of duty.
Think of every encounter with a citizen as a fresh start. It’s a chance to reset the expectations that society has for him/her. By starting with the offering of respect, while demanding it be returned, puts most encounters on better ground than if they are simply a pissing-match of anger exchanged.
Does that mean we should be soft or slow to react to a threat? You bet not. Even Mrs. Hendricks had a very firm ruler within reach for those who needed “help” obeying her directives. We all knew it, too. I didn’t fear the ruler nearly as much as I would dread the thought of disappointing the teacher who respected and expected so much -from me.
I learned that in elementary school. It could save lives of cops today.
And, after all, it comes down to saving just ONE life.
About The Author:
Jim Donahue is a native of the Midwest, getting his education at Michigan State University. He is now training patrol officers on Technology & Tactics which translates for street cops into how to use patrol car computers -- safely.
Previously, Jim was part of the Wayne County (MI) Sheriff’s Department and detailed full-time to U.S. Customs & Immigration at the Detroit/Canada border in the year following the attacks of 9/11. He has also worked as a reserve patrolman on the streets of a suburban Detroit community.
Jim recently finished a three year term as an Ambassador for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C. He is now supporting the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP.org) and the Under-100 initiative.
Jim has worked with police departments across the country on process improvement at the patrol car level, focusing on technology to improve tactics, safety, and productivity. He instructs in a variety of police academies and having taught "Technology and Tactics" to thousands of cops in-service nationally. He is an accomplished grant writer.
Jim is married to Paula and they have two children. He has six bodybuilding contests to his credit. Jim is active in his community and his church.