By MARY GOODRICH
National Teacher of the Year 2019 Rodney Robinson gave a talk on Jan. 29 in Dodd Auditorium. Robinson spoke about his success teaching at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center.
“It’s about equity… Making sure that all students have the resources they need to be successful,” Robinson said. “All students can learn… It’s everybody’s job to help raise children.”
Robinson addressed the issue of meeting a student’s basic needs before academic learning could take place. These basic needs include emotional needs, physiological needs and safety. “Nothing is more important than what a student sees, hears and feels in your classroom,” he said.
Robinson tackled the problem of how students in all schools, but especially low-income schools today are expected to excel with the amount of trauma they face in their everyday lives.
“Our success or failure with our kids is pretty much life or death,” he said.
Robinson said that if he was not a successful teacher in his students’ lives, then they would go back to living the life they had come from.
He spoke about how the students he taught never dreamed of having any kind of a future. When he first began at Virgie Binford Education Center, the school was nothing but an extension of the jail – white walls and all. Robinson and his staff decided to add a mural and hang up college flags on every window.
“If you’re going to look out the window and daydream, I want you to dream about college,” said Robinson.
Robinson encouraged his students to know college was still an option, to advocate for themselves, and to feel confident that they can overcome any hurdle life throws their way. His teachings have been vastly effective with students from Virgie Binford Education Center going on to lead successful lives when they once did not have hope.
“The power is in teaching them how to advocate for themselves,” said Robinson.
The message of his talk was clear– what society deemed “bad students” are not bad at all. They just need a caring person who will fight for them and a bit of extra help to ensure they can become the best versions of themselves.