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A Son Became a Soldier, and a Dad Became a Teacher


When teacher and Army National Guard member Brian Harvey was called to Iraq, his first thoughts were for his family, but not far behind was concern for his classes. Then his father, Boyce, made a life-changing decision to teach Brian's classes while he was gone. Included: How a family's decisions helped create a new teacher.

The Teaching Team: Brian and Boyce Harvey.

When middle school technology teacher Brian Harvey learned his Army National Guard unit was being called up to go Iraq, his first thoughts were for his wife and 7-month-old daughter, who he would not see for more than a year.

But Harvey also was concerned about his students, and worried that their education would suffer in his absence. Then someone he knew and trusted offered to teach his classes until he returned: his father, Boyce.

Not only did Boyce Harvey's offer take the pressure off his son and his principal, but also opened the door to a new career for the elder Harvey.


Brian Harvey's unit was put on alert in August 2003, and he learned that he would be deployed in September.

"My first concern was for my family, and I had concern for my job," said Brian Harvey, who at the time was a technology teacher at North Granville Middle School in Oxford, North Carolina. He now is a drafting teacher at J.F. Webb High School. "It was very difficult to leave my family; I knew I'd miss a lot of my daughter's 'firsts,'" he said.

"I knew I would have a job to come back to. But I felt I still had an obligation to my students, for them to have a quality education."

He was talking on the phone to his father, Boyce, about his concerns for his classes, when his father suddenly offered to fill in for him.

"Now, I'm not one to make snap decisions," Boyce Harvey told Education World. "I had been looking to retire, but looking for something to do. So I told him I would substitute in his class until he got back."

At the time, Boyce Harvey worked for the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, and had spent 36 years employed by the federal government, including four years serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Boyce Harvey said his son's priorities touched him. "His first and foremost concern was his wife and very young daughter. Second was his family in general," Boyce Harvey said. "Third were his students. He had put a lot of effort into the program and he didn't want their education to suffer. This was a young man who put three major concerns ahead of his own safety."

After Boyce Harvey made his offer, "there was some silence on the phone, and then he said he'd talk to his principal and see," Boyce said. "Brian called back in 30-to-45 minutes and said I had the job if I wanted it.

"I hung up the phone, and filed my retirement papers at work, giving them 30 days notice. I retired Friday, Oct. 31, and walked into a classroom Monday, Nov. 3."

"I was happy and awestruck," Brian Harvey said. "My father was giving up a life-long careerand was going in blind."


North Granville Middle School principal Daniel Callaghan said he was receptive when Brian Harvey said he had a suggestion for filling his vacancy. "Brian was being deployed in mid-September, and I needed a teacher," Callaghan told Education World. "He said he had a plan, and I said I would listen."

Callaghan had known Boyce Harvey and other Harvey family members for years. "I knew the family because I had taught Brian's sister in fifth grade. And I knew his daddy, and I knew his daddy was pretty tough," Callaghan said. "I knew he did a good job at anything he did. And I like to take chances.

"So we talked, and got some things settled with human resources, got him emergency certification, and qualified as a long-term sub."

"When my father made his decision, I felt glad to know I was leaving my students in good hands," added Brian Harvey. "It was a very quick decision on his part, and my father never makes a quick decision on anything. He went into it without knowing all the answers he usually does when making a decision."


While Boyce Harvey had worked with young people as a Boy Scout leader and Red Cross water safety instructor, and had given presentations to students and taught courses for teachers during his career at the conservation service, he had no formal classroom training.

"I was a little nervous at first -- I spent the first days talking about myself," Boyce Harvey said to Education World. "They I spent the next few days learning about them [the students.] It worked really well."

Brian said he was confident his father would shine. "I never doubted he would succeed; he never failed at anything he did," he said.

"His first and foremost concern was his wife and very young daughter. Second was his family in general. Third were his students. He had put a lot of effort into the program and he didn't want their education to suffer. This was a young man who put three major concerns ahead of his own safety."

Boyce Harvey made a smooth transition to an educator, according to Callaghan. "We assigned a mentor teacher to him, but he had a natural ability when it came to teaching," he said. "The greatest challenge was discipline, and that's everyone's greatest challenge."

The elder Harvey admitted he is a stickler for good behavior. "I'm a disciplinarian, and discipline is not real strong on the agenda of middle school students," he said. "Some people tried to talk me out of it [substituting], because they were afraid I'd get into trouble with the discipline. But I used common sense and it worked out okay. "

And something else happened as Boyce Harvey was settling into teaching: "I discovered I loved it."

He wanted to get his master's degree to teach science, but a traditional program would have taken too long. So he enrolled in North Carolina Teach, an alternate certification program. Because Boyce Harvey had a science background, he only needed to take some education courses. "I was able to complete the program in one year, and by April 2005, I was a certified teacher," he said.

Callaghan hired him to teach eighth grade science. Brian Harvey is pleased he helped his father find a new career. "It opened his eyes; he found teaching was something he wanted to do and continue," Brian Harvey said. "He's the happiest I've seen him in years."


Meanwhile, while serving in Iraq as part of a mechanized infantry unit, Brian Harvey learned of an opening for a technology teacher at Webb High School, and applied for that. When he returned to the U.S. after 16 months, he interviewed for that position and accepted the job at Webb, and later became the drafting teacher, an assignment Brian Harvey always had hoped for.

"Brian interviewed for a position at Webb High School, but I wasn't worried, because I had his daddy," Callaghan noted.

The time overseas affected Brian Harvey as a person and a teacher. "It made me realize what I do [teaching] means even more, when I saw the situation of some of the children over there, who couldn't go to school, or couldn't afford to go to school," he said. "It means more to me to give my students all the information they need to be educated. I realized the importance of my job. It inspired me to be a better teacher."

At the same time, his father has been an asset in and out of the classroom. He wrote grant proposals that yielded funds to set up a wetlands area in the middle school courtyard for hands-on science work, and to build a greenhouse. He also serves as the advisor to the school's ecology club.

"He expects a lot from the kids, which I have no problem with," said Callaghan. "His team has the same mindset."

Adjusting to today's adolescents is taking some time, Boyce Harvey noted. "My job is to get the kids to take the information available to them, apply it, and come up with an answer. That is a challenge," he told Education World. "It's been an education for me. I compare it to when I was in seventh and eighth grade. I tell the kids I would give my right arm to be back in seventh and eighth grade with all the resources they have. [Yet], so many of them don't even want to try -- they just sit back. It's like dumb is in."

But he has no regrets. "I felt like it was the right thing to do, and so far it has turned out to be the right thing to do," according to Boyce Harvey. "I used to think that once you got to 59 you had one foot in the grave; then I got here, and I began to think differently. I would highly recommend this [to other professionals.] Schools have a resource to draw on -- real-life experience that a teacher just out of college doesn't have."

Sometimes, Callaghan said, you just have to trust your instincts. "It's been a good experience, really," he said. "Sometimes you have to take a chanceyou have to work the system. You have to look at does someone have an edge -- if they are sharp, then they can reach the kids. Someone with something different, like life experiences."

Brian Harvey remains touched by his father's generosity and the lessons he passed on. "What this has taught me is that no matter what happens, you have to take care of family first," he told Education World.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World
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