Virginia Juvenile Detention Educator Named National Teacher of the Year

A teacher at a juvenile detention center in Richmond, Virginia was given the honor of National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The council announced in a press release on April 24 that Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher at Virgie Binford Education Center was given this year’s honorific. CCSSO said Robinson created “a positive school culture by empowering his students.” The social studies teacher was also named the 2019 Virginia Teacher of the Year in October.

“Every student in this country deserves access to a teacher who is committed to their success,” said CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller. “I congratulate Rodney Robinson on this outstanding recognition and look forward to him engaging in conversations across the country about ways to address the school-to-prison pipeline and improve educational equity for all students.” Robinson, who has been a teacher for 19 years, will travel around the world for a year in an effort to create “equitable education for all students” and hopes to recruit more men of color into the education field.

“I am honored and humbled to be the 2019 National Teacher of the Year,” Robinson said in the press release. “This year I hope to be the voice for my students and all students who feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated and undervalued in America.”

Robinson was selected from 50 teachers in states across the US, including the Department of Defense Education Activity, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.

“The National Teacher of the Year Selection Committee has chosen Rodney Robinson to be the 2019 National Teacher of the Year because he is passionate both about the subject he teaches (history) and the relationships he has with students,” the selection committee said in a statement from the press release. “His 19 years of commitment and dedication to teaching should be applauded by all and recognized as the model for teaching across the nation.” “He has made teaching a part of his mission in life and it is exemplified in his actions and practices. He inspires with his stories, speaks from the heart, and is improving the lives of his students through his work,” the committee continued. The North Star has reached out to Robinson for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

The social studies teacher told CNN that his mother always aspired to become a teacher, but never got a chance to because she grew up in rural Virginia where “segregation and poverty stripped her of the opportunity to graduate high school and go to college.” His mother opened up her own daycare center and earned her GED, which led Robinson to decide to study history and become a social studies teacher.

Robinson told the network that his students are no different than other high school students. “[I want them to know that] you're important and you have a place in this world and you can achieve your goals," Robinson told CNN. "Jail is only a temporary setback."

Other finalists for this year's National Teacher of the Year award include Donna Gradel from Oklahoma, Kelly Harper from Washington, DC, and Danielle Riha from Alaska, according to the CCSO statement.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.