June 18, 2019

Richmond’s own Rodney Robinson was selected as the 2019 National Teacher of the Year. The program is the oldest and most prestigious honor recognizing excellence in education. Robinson is a 19-year veteran and has been published multiple times by Yale University. His resume is packed with honors for his work, but what I found equally notable is his authenticity and his straight-forward message about what works in education:

“Our students need role models who look like them in the classroom.” Robinson (Stallsmith, Pamela; “Life Lessons from Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year, Highlights from the Richmond Times Dispatch’s 77th Public Square Event;” Richmond Times Dispatch; June 8, 2019)

Robinson believes that students are more successful when they can connect with and relate to their education leaders, and that our nation needs to focus on growing the population of male, minority teachers. And if we want to do that, Robinson says we need to shift current students’ impressions of school to one that is positive. “We must create better experiences for [African American and Hispanic] students in school… Often for those students, school is the scene of trauma. And no one wants to come back to the scene of their trauma to work.”

Robinson knows that success in students’ lives requires engagement from everyone – the teacher, the adults in each student’s life, and the students themselves. This cohesive advocacy helps the student understand who is invested in their education and how much is at stake.

Ultimately, Robinson says teachers and administrators must listen without judgment – listen to what students are saying, be receptive to their impressions, and learn what they know and don’t know. This will help them find their own voice and to learn to advocate for themselves.

Currently, Robinson is serving some of the area’s most challenging students: he teaches social studies at Richmond’s juvenile detention center. “We deal with a lot… Physically my job is easy – it’s a controlled environment. But it’s the mental toll that takes its toll on you. Every time a crime happens involving someone under 25, I either know the victim or the perpetrator, and sometimes I know them both.”

Robinson’s recognition reminds us that all success is rooted in honesty and respect – speaking the truth for positive change and a better world for each other, regardless of age, race, gender and background.