Rodney Robinson was named the 2019 National Teacher of the Year, the Council of Chief State School Officers announced Wednesday. The HBCU graduate teaches social studies and history at Virgie Binford Education Center in Virginia’s capital city.
The school is part of the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center, where his students include young men who are accused of crimes ranging from truancy to murder.
Robinson earned a Bachelor of arts in history from Virginia State University (VSU), one of the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) across Virginia.
He said he decided to attend VSU because of his mentor in high school. Wayne Lewis, a Black assistant principal at Robinson’s high school who is also a VSU grad, spoke with the then-teenager about the historically Black college while he was serving in-school detention, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Robinson had reportedly flipped over a desk after a teacher insulted the Black students in his class.
“It was the first time someone had talked to me about their college days,” Robinson recalled. “It really got me interested.”
The 19-year teaching veteran said he decided to become an educator to honor his mother. She made every effort to receive an education while living in segregated rural Virginia, he explained.
As teacher of the year, Robinson will leave the classroom to discuss issues surrounding education across the country. He said the message he plans to share is that more Black teachers are needed to teach African-American students, many of whom are in schools that lack resources.
Teachers of color are underrepresented in the workforce. The U.S. Department of Education, in a 2016 report titled The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce, found that teachers of color represent about 18 percent of the workforce—at a time when minorities combined comprise a majority of public school students.
Teachers of color, because of commonalities with their underprivileged urban students, serve as role models, have high expectations and understand the behavior of their Black and brown students, King explained.
Robinson is one of a few African-American educators to win national recognition. Previous winners include Jahana Hayes, who was named national teacher of the year in 2016 and is now a member of Congress from Connecticut. A decade earlier, Kimberly Oliver from Maryland won the award in 2006.