National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson, who teaches in a juvenile detention center, decried “inequities” in Virginia schools in an interview with Slate published Friday.
As teacher of the year ― an honor awarded by the Council of Chief State School Officers ― Robinson will spend a year traveling nationally and internationally advocating on behalf of teachers. Part of those duties involve visiting schools across the U.S., and he’s already started in his home state.
“There are great inequities in Virginia,” he said. “There are some districts where kids are using STEM bots and launching rockets, and then there are some districts where kids don’t even have textbooks.”
He continued, “I think the rural and the urban areas are really dealing with some of the same inequities, and I think that, especially in Virginia, we need to work on our school funding problem to ensure that rural and urban areas get more of the funding that they need to give the kids that great education.”
Robinson was inspired to teach at Virgie Binford Education Center, a Richmond public school that serves kids housed in juvenile detention, to learn more about the school-to-prison pipeline. He has used his new platform to advocate for the recruitment of more black and Hispanic male teachers since he was named teacher of the year in April.
“The education system needs to look more like America,” he told The Associated Press last month.
According to a 2016 report by the Department of Education, black men make up about 2% of the nation’s teaching workforce in public schools.
Robinson told Slate that he was also “bothered” by certain cultural inequities while touring in Virginia.
“I think we went to 10 schools, and I only saw one black male educator, only a few black females, maybe one or two Hispanic educators, and that’s the population that is growing in that area,” he said.
He also noted one case where he saw students wearing clothing items that featured the Confederate flag ― which is rooted in a history of racism ― in a school where the principal was African American.
“Those things were really eye opening as far as the cultural inequities in our state,” he said.
One possible reason for why there are so few black male educators, Robinson said, is a history of implicit racial bias in schools, in which black boys are disproportionately disciplined.
“They have been singled out for their behavior and for discipline, and that’s traumatic,” he told Slate. “No one wants to come back to the scene of their trauma, so they don’t see that as a viable career for them because they ― from what they have seen, that they aren’t valued or appreciated.”
Prior to teaching at the youth detention center, the 19-year teaching veteran taught at Richmond’s Armstrong High School. He often talks about how his mom, Sylvia Robinson, inspired him to pursue a teaching career at a young age.
Read Robinson’s entire interview with Slate here.