The school has to be a sanctuary

I’m currently a fourth grade teacher in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C.

My father is in the Air Force. I spent most of my time on the Air Force base. My father did a lot of coaching, and I really looked up to how the kids responded to my father. So I knew that was something I wanted to be. I wanted to be a coach. I wanted to own a business. At least that’s what I thought.

I sat in a cubicle for a little while, but my love — and what I missed — was working with kids.

I joined Teach for America. My placement school was Hendley in 1993. I’ve remained at my placement school.

Being an urban educator, one that is willing to share part of themselves, we find ourselves consumed with, “What can we do better for our students?”

Unfortunately, at my school and so many other schools, you don’t have a full-time art teacher. Because we don’t have art in our building, I actually have an easel and paint in the back of my classroom. The kids come in for breakfast, they see me painting. I have purchased many easels. Because after testing (which drives almost every urban school) my focus will be, “Paint. Have fun.” Because we don’t know who we have in that classroom. The kids have to be able to find themselves. 

There’s a lot of fixable items in that little checklist. A lot of things where we could fill in the check if we just sat and remembered what we loved about school — what we loved about public education.

In the District of Columbia, we lose many kids to charter schools. It’s not because what they’re teaching is better, but the kids have more opportunities for art. For electronics. It’s a lot of things that they get to do that we’ve taken out of the system because we’re more concerned about testing.

Greatest moment is when a student leaves your school and with time, comes back. For a student to pop up out of the blue, and to see my current students look at these older kids… sometimes I get that little tear and get that knot in the throat and that’s special.

That makes it all worth it.

Now, the flip side of that happiness, that joy of the students coming back… unfortunately, I’ve lost 15 students. I’ve lost two to overdoses and 13 to gun violence.

And when you get that phone call, you find yourself looking back:
Was there something I could have done differently?

Working in an urban setting, it’s tough.

But the school has to be sort of a sanctuary.

–Kenneth Robinson
Fourth Grade Teacher, Hendley Elementary School
Washington, D.C.

This video is one of 20 teacher interviews created to encourage the general public to #passthe🎤 to a teacher. You can view all video interviews here, on YouTube, on Facebook, or on Instagram Reels.