Robin Wright’s Pivotal Moment

A Calling for Unconditional Love - Robin Wright's Pivotal Moment

“I was asked to teach a reading and writing class for students who were below level. I had never been trained in teaching reading and the class had no curriculum, so I had to be creative. One way I was creative was the opening routine of the class. We started each morning with an opener – an interesting question – that we discussed and wrote about.” 

One day, Robin had to finish up some important work with another teacher. Upon arriving 10 minutes late to class, she noticed:

“The students were quiet, listening to two of their peers in the front of the class, leading the discussion on the question of the day. At this point, I heard them say, ‘If there are no other comments, start writing.’ Then the entire class began to journal. I told the assistant principal that I was going home since I obviously wasn't needed.

After I walked into the classroom and when my students were finished writing, I asked them why they decided to behave the way they did. The answer I got made me cry. They told me that family always covered for each other and we all were family. The class critique I got at the end of the semester carried this same idea. Students said they never thought that school could be a home with a loving family but now they knew it could.

Two years later I had almost the exact same group of students in 12th grade English. Nothing had changed. We were still a family. The few students who had not been in our remedial class said they wished they had been because we all loved each other so much (and we loved them, too). Love wins - every single time."

I followed up with Robin about her story to ask how she managed to foster a loving classroom environment.

“Believe me I didn’t know what I was doing when I was doing it… It was just what felt right. Looking back, it’s all about giving students respect. They don’t have to earn it. They can lose it but they shouldn’t have to earn it. They’re getting up every morning the same as I am. Coming to school, the same as I am. They’re trying to work as hard as they know how, same as I am. They’re goofing off, same as I am. They are younger. They don’t have as many life experiences… but they deserve the respect. And I didn’t always agree with them. The whole idea of treating them as human beings rather than little machines that we have to fill with information is the start of it. The second is to show some grace because these kids have things going on in their lives that I would never experience. So from the respect comes the valuing of the individual and once they know they are valued… oh my gosh, the love you get back is the most incredible thing. I don’t care what kind of bad day I was having, someone would always want to come up and give me a hug.

The other thing is that you have to know your students. It can’t just be memorizing names. One of my students would ask me so often, ‘why are you in my conversation?’ I’d say, ‘well if you’re talking loud enough for me to hear then you’ve invited me into your conversation.’ But more than that it was to hear what they had to say, to get to know them a little bit. I mean I could talk NASCAR with them even though I’m not a NASCAR fan. I was going to find some way to make a connection with them because that goes back to respect, making them feel valued, and treating them like human beings."

After teaching for 40 years, Robin’s skilled in understanding and caring for her students, even when it’s difficult.  She shared a story with me about a senior English class she taught one year.

“They were… if I can say… challenging, that would be an understatement. I had several in the class who had severe anger management problems. I had several who had terrible home lives. I had several who were reading so far below level I was surprised they even got to be a senior in high school. And one day this kid came in and just, you could tell, he was going to explode. He started to get really disrespectful to not just me but the class so I said, ‘Meet me in the hall. Wait for me.’ I walked out and I said, “Okay, take your best shot. You can say whatever you want. I don’t care, whatever you want.’

Well, he called me everything but a human being. He told me what was wrong with me, the school, the world. An assistant principal came around the corner and said, ‘Do you need help?’. I said, ‘Nope, I’m fine,’ and he was yelling at the top of his lungs, just screaming, until he screamed himself out. Then I said, ‘What’s really wrong?’

His father had done something to him that morning and he couldn’t lash out at him so I was the first person in authority that he had come into contact with and he just needed to let it out… It was like sticking a pin in a balloon. After he let it all out and I went, ‘Are we good now?’ and he said, ‘Yeah I’m really sorry.’ We walked back into the classroom and we went back to what we were doing. You just gotta read them, I mean, I knew there was something wrong. Instead of sending him to the office, or a power struggle, it’s like, let’s find out what’s wrong.”

On the walls of Robin’s classroom, she proudly displayed a rainbow flag with a quote from a sonnet by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It said, “love is love is love is love.”

“That goes for all the kids, ’love is love is love is love,’ and you may not like what they think but you gotta love the kids, you got to, you just got to, because you do have students that will curse at you. You do have students with horrible home lives. And you do have students that when you realize it’s cold out and they don’t have a coat, you need to leave during your planning period to buy them a coat so they don’t freeze to death. And you do have students who are mean, and bigoted, and clingy… but still, I loved my kids with all my heart. Teaching is a calling and there were times where it was horrible! Horrible administration, horrible working conditions, but not horrible students. Now, were they always good? No, but they’re human beings, and you have to love them and what you’re doing.”

Robin Wright has been a part of our network as a Pivotal Educator since 2020. Robin is a retired English teacher from Cleveland, Tennessee. Learn more about Robin by checking out her profile here.

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