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Indianapolis Police Officer Fulfills Dream of Being a Teacher

  • It took more than three decades, but Michael Elder is where he always wanted to be: in an Indianapolis classroom.

    In his youth, Michael Elder wanted to be a teacher but instead opted in college to study criminal justice, with a minor in math. Soon enough, he joined the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD).

    Over three decades, his assignments ran the gamut – from patrolman to narcotics to vice to community policing. Early on, he also became an instructor on the force, teaching fellow officers various topics, including narcotics enforcement methods and implicit bias. He attained the rank of captain.

    But the teaching bug never left him.  “I was an instructor for IMPD for probably 29 of my 32 years that I was there, so I always liked to teach,” Elder said.

    In the fall of 2018, he spotted a billboard aimed at recruiting professionals to switch to teaching. The ad read “Transition to Teaching Through Indiana Teachers of Tomorrow,” Elder recalled. He could not resist. Within months, he retired and worked with the group in the ad to qualify for and obtain the necessary certificates. Indianapolis teacher Michael Elder in his classroom.

    Soon enough, he got hired to teach sixth grade at Ralph Waldo Emerson School 58 on the east side of Indianapolis – situated in the same neighborhood he once patrolled as an officer. “It was just the right place, the right time, and everything just kind of happened,” Elder said in an article on the Indianapolis Public Schools’ website.

    Principal Jean Ely even asked Elder to start early – teaching the last six weeks in the spring after a vacancy occurred. She described his career in policing as a plus.

    “His experience alone adds value to our effort to teach our scholars to be respectful, responsible, productive citizens,” said Ely. “Building relations is one of the most critical components in education for our scholars. Given Mr. Elder’s background in working with our community, he understands family dynamics and possible challenges that our scholars face that will hamper learning.” 

    Elder said leading a classroom is different from his responsibilities on the police force. “When I showed up in uniform, I had to be loud and take charge. When you’re teaching, loud is not good because you lose control. I’ve had to learn to quiet my demeanor while still taking charge,” he said.

    His goal is to prepare his students for seventh grade and beyond. He hopes his approach helps students with goal-setting and character-building.

    “I have high expectations,” said Elder. “I expected a lot from my guys in uniform and I’m going to expect a lot from my students.”