A social studies teacher who works with students in juvenile detention at the Virgie Binford Education Center in Richmond, Va., has won the 2019 National Teacher of the Year award.
In the announcement last week on CBS This Morning, Rodney Robinson credited his mother, who ran an in-home day care, with forming his approach to education.
“She always taught us that every child deserves the proper amount of love that he or she needs,” he said. “So that was my first lesson in equity.”
As Teacher of the Year, Robinson will focus on “economic and cultural equity,” he said—the resources for students to achieve and the opportunity for students to have teachers who look like them.
“Throughout my schooling, I only had one black male teacher the entire time,” Robinson said in an interview with Education Week. The teacher led band class, which Robinson took in grades 5-12. Robinson liked playing music, but this teacher was one of the main reasons he stuck with the class for so many years. “It meant so much to see someone like me in the classroom,” he said.
Robinson said his students deserve as much of a chance to achieve as other teenagers. “They just made mistakes, and they’re paying for mistakes,” he said on the morning news show. “But America is a country of second chances.”
In his social studies classes, Robinson empowers his students to push for social change. With them, he has explored the roots of the U.S. prison system, the ongoing effects of racial segregation, and voting rights.
“One of the proudest moments is when my students are able to legally advocate for themselves, resulting in a positive outcome in their legal case,” he wrote in his Teacher of the Year application.
Other finalists this year were Donna Gradel, an environmental-science and innovative-research teacher in Broken Arrow, Okla.; Kelly Harper, a 3rd grade teacher in the District of Columbia, and Danielle Riha, a middle-grades teacher in Anchorage, Alaska.
A 19-year teaching veteran, Robinson started at the Binford center in 2015.
“I think we need to get rid of the stigma that no learning can take place in the juvenile-justice system,” Robinson told Education Week. “Kids come in with the opportunity to reset and refocus.” Governments must adequately fund these programs, he said.
The U.S. Department of Education recently held a forum on education for incarcerated students, an issue the Trump administration has highlighted as a priority.
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2019 edition of Education Week as Detained Youths Get Top Teacher