While Robbins has taught in various classroom settings, she said teaching students in the Focus setting reminds her of working toward her educational goals as a child, saying she sometimes felt she didn’t measure up to expectations set by others as well as herself.
“Growing up and looking back now, I really wasn’t, but I felt like the underdog …,” Robbins said. “I get kids who have that personality, that feel they can’t [reach goals], and it’s a challenge. I see myself in them and I take it on as a challenge.”
She added, “In my room, by the time the kids get to me in the second grade, and if they’ve struggled since kindergarten, they might be ready to throw in the towel. In my room, we kind of hit all the modalities [of learning]. We sing, we play, we do poetry, we do a lot of movement … and making things real for them.
“Reading in real life is not just sitting down with a book, you have to read everywhere you go and I kind of just make it real world for them and make it interesting.”
For math, Robbins said implementing the use of technology, such as iPads, has proven beneficial in helping to reach students. However, she said implementing hands-on manipulatives also help students to better understand aspects of math.
“I have to differentiate the way I instruct children with math in that they can’t read necessarily, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a good math student,” Robbins said. “I might tell them [a math scenario] and have them act it out, or figure it out or give them manipulatives, … [for example] working with shapes and talking about halves and things like that, but if I had put a word problem in front of these children about fractions and parts of a whole, they would have been lost.
“When I gave them these shapes, they figured out how to make shapes within the shapes and made fractions.”
Robbins said the most rewarding aspect of teaching is seeing students grow in their abilities.
“When you see the kids after many, many, tries and they finally understand, it’s a light bulb moment.” Robbins said. “They gain independence when they feel confident as a reader … and they feel they can pretty much accomplish anything.”
She said while less state and federal funding in the classroom creates problems for teachers everywhere, there are other factors out of her control which make the job difficult.
“People in the teaching profession are the most resourceful people because it doesn’t matter if they’re paying us what they’re paying us, or they take half of it away, we’re still responsible to teach children — our job description doesn’t change,” Robbins said. “We can’t say we’re only going to half teach.”
She added, “The funding [aspect] is huge, but more than that it’s the day-to-day things that affect the children that are beyond my control; that is what is so hard. Their home life that I can’t help, their inner struggles, the things that I can’t fix — and I’m a fixer.”When she has down time, Robbins said she enjoys spending time with her family, including her 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.
“We enjoy the beach, we’re doing sports … they keep me pretty busy,” Robbins said. “I have a big extended family too, so it’s all about family time.”
Robbins said she appreciates being selected as teacher of the year but feels the profession of teaching is a calling of service for all involved.
“It’s an honor any time you’re recognized by your peers,” Robbins said. “I think every teacher is selfless, so I think there are a lot of great teachers and just to be singled out in the system that is such an honor, but I don’t do it for the recognition, I don’t do it for the paycheck, I don’t do it for the summers off; it’s the love I have for children and the difference I want to make in their lives.”