How One Teacher Helped Students Reap the Rewards of Mastering Content #ThankATeacher

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Topics: Education Policy

Mrs. Robinson believed her students should be empowered in their learning and was insistent that they not settle for something less than they deserved. I ate lunch most days my freshman year of high school across from Mrs. Robinson’s chemistry classroom, with my best friend Sydney. We ate microwaved Hotpockets and chatted over apples and peanut butter in Mrs. Speegle’s math room because she was witty and entertaining, and the cafeteria smelled gross.

I’d often take my apple over to wash it in Mrs. Robinson’s science lab sink, inevitably wondering on my way back if I’d die a dramatic death from some toxic chemical in the air that may have attached itself to my now-clean piece of fruit. I almost always snapped out of these thoughts of my impending doom, though, as I walked back by Mrs. Robinson’s desk. On any given day there were a dozen or so students in her classroom during lunch, all coming in with questions and comments about their “Quizzypoos.”

I couldn’t quite figure out what they were talking about. But sophomore year was chemistry year, so I knew that I’d have a chance to get to know Quizzypoos very well. Lo and behold, I did.

Quizzypoos were like quizzes, only you could take them up to three times to get the grade you wanted… which (sneaky, Mrs. Robinson!) meant we retook them and actually mastered the content. Chemistry was hard, and Mrs. Robinson knew that. But she expected us to learn the material. She also knew how rewarding it could be to master, and she didn’t want us to get discouraged. And so she created opportunities for us to demonstrate our knowledge in ways that would allow the time we needed to truly understand what we were learning.

Mrs. Robinson was in her classroom 30 minutes before school, during lunch, and for at least an hour after school every day except Thursdays. Students could come in to tutor with her, study with each other, retake Quizzypoos, or study for upcoming tests by looking back at previous Quizzypoo materials. I learned more from Mrs. Robinson’s class than I ever imagined possible—my brain leans more towards the social sciences than the hard sciences—and I credit that to her personalized approach to teaching.

Mrs. Robinson believed we should be empowered in our learning. If I didn’t want to retake a Quizzypoo, I had the agency to make that choice– although I will say Mrs. Robinson was insistent that we not settle for something less than she knew we deserved. I grew as a collaborator and a curious learner thanks to the ways in which Mrs. Robinson made chemistry relevant and engaging.

More and more, I think teachers and administrators recognize the importance of teaching like Mrs. Robinson did, with the student in the center. That priority is reflected in the new reauthorization of the federal ESEA, and it’s reflected in so many conversations I have across the country with education professionals.

That is why, during this Teacher Appreciation Week, I salute Mrs. Robinson and all the great work she did to help me remember why it’s important to know that Mole Day is October 23. Oxygen is O. Helium is He. Lead is Pb. Iron is Fe……..