If you visit North Atlanta High School and have the opportunity to walk the halls, you are certain to see flyers advertising the school’s debate team decorating the walls and elevators. The popularity of the team has taken off in the past few years due in part to the leadership of world history teacher Mike Robinson, who co-sponsors the team with Dr. James Jones.
Robinson, a 2009 Henry W. Grady High School graduate, was as a proud member of Grady’s speech and debate team in the early 2000’s. Although he didn’t know it at the time, that experience had a monumental impact on his future; and over a decade later, he spends his time imparting those and other important lessons upon his students.
Today, the debate team is one of the most coveted activities at North Atlanta and is making impressive strides in developing scholars into proficient orators on the local, state and national levels.
We dropped in on one of Robinson’s AP World History classes during Alumni Month to find out how he channels his experiences as an APS graduate into his passion for teaching and how he continues to exhibit APS pride every day.
North Atlanta High School World History Educator and Debate Team Coach | Grady High School Class of 2009.
What makes you proud to be an APS alumni?
I feel like I’m part of a community. I feel like APS is great in developing those community ties to the wider city. I see all the great things that our students do and are still doing now. I get an opportunity to interact with hundreds of amazing students every year and just seeing what they do and what they’re capable of and watching them learn— just being a part of that makes me incredibly proud.
How has APS prepared you for life and helped you to reach your goals?
Because APS as a school system is so big, you have to take ownership of your own success. Especially once you get into secondary education you’re the only one who’s going to drag yourself across the finish line. So [APS] taught me that in order to reach my goals, I’m the one who has to achieve them.
Do you have any fond memories of your time as an APS student?
Most of my fond memories are of my experiences with my friends on the debate team in high school. We would go to tournaments and we would leave at five in the morning, and we’d get on a bus and we’d drive to the middle of nowhere in Georgia. Then we would debate for 12 hours and we’d drive back home, and when we’d get home it was midnight. By that point we’d spent 18 hours together. It’s funny because I don’t really remember most of the content of most of the rounds [of the tournament], but I do remember hanging out with my friends in between the rounds.
One of the moments [my then debate coach] Mario Herrera always makes fun of, was during my sophomore year of high school. Like a typical teenage boy, I didn’t want to get my hair cut. I was like, ‘I’m not cutting my hair’. I had this big shaggy mop head of hair— I was 16 years old then— and Mario made one of the other debaters on the team take this hair product and slick back all my hair. And it was just this horrible, slicked back mop. He made me do that and go to the whole tournament like that … I got a haircut after that!
What advice would you give to current APS students?
Don’t rest on your laurels. You’ve done a ton of great achievements but you got to keep striving. So, that’s incredibly important. With that being said though, I think it’s also important for students to be proud of what they have accomplished and what they do. They should feel that sense of pride. Even just graduating from high school is an accomplishment. So students need to feel proud of what they’ve done and they also need to hold on to hopes for bigger and better things as well.
How do you feel you contribute to APS?
Through relationship building. I feel like APS alumni who are also teachers should absolutely communicate that to the students. They should explain to the students that they are also graduates of APS. I think it creates a relationship with the students where the students know that, to a certain extent, you know what their experience is and you know what they’re going through. I would just really, really encourage all of the other educators in APS to lean into that because I think, for me anyway, it’s been invaluable in building relationships with my students.