I came away from Ronn Johnson’s classroom thinking he was the best teacher I ever met.
Now, he sits in the Milwaukee County Jail.
It was 23 years ago that I met Johnson. He was 24 and teaching fifth grade at Lee Elementary School in Milwaukee with less than two years on the job.
The wiry and energetic teacher was himself the product of Milwaukee Public Schools and a graduate of Marquette University. His mother and his aunt were both teachers.
In an article I wrote in 1990, I said: “A visit to Johnson’s classroom is the antidote to what seems like chronic bad news about academic achievement in city schools. His pupils — all black and all from the economically depressed neighborhood near the school at 921 W. Meinecke Ave. — appeared attentive and enthusiastic about learning. The school day ended at 2:40 p.m., but the pupils remained at their desks engaging in a stimulating give and take with their teacher until after 3.”
The principal at Lee, George Hughes, called Johnson one of the most outstanding teachers he had ever supervised. Johnson was able to maintain strict discipline and to teach in a way that connected to the students’ real lives. A sign on his classroom door said: “Have no misunderstanding. Learning takes place here.”
“I teach the way I would like to be taught. I hate going through the workbook page by page,” he told me.