In May 2014, Humanities Texas announced the winners of the 2014 Outstanding Teaching Awards. Among the impressive group of recipients was Margie Robinson, AP English literature and composition teacher at Skyline High School in Dallas Independent School District. Ms. Robinson's genuine passion for teaching, learning, and student achievement stood out among the competitive group of nearly two hundred social studies and language arts teachers who applied for the award. Humanities Texas was honored to select this eighteen-year veteran teacher as a recipient of the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.
Ms. Robinson didn't start off in the teaching profession, much less in the humanities. After graduating with a degree in project management and industrial technology, she began work in the aerospace industry—a field she planned to remain in for the duration of her professional career. While serving as a project manager at NASA in Florida, however, she began to collaborate with educators to incorporate the sciences into their curriculum. The rest is history.
Ms. Robinson wrote the following about her switch from a NASA employee to a high school English teacher:
"I think a distinction that sets me apart from other teachers is why I became a teacher. While working as a project manager at NASA in Florida in the early 1990s, I had an opportunity to work with educators promoting innovative ways to incorporate the sciences across the curriculum. My first undertaking involved introducing middle school teachers and their students to [NASA engineer] Homer Hickam's autobiographical novel, October Sky, a coming-of-age story about a teenager at the dawn of the space race. I was tasked to hold book discussions and encourage model rocketry. I soon found myself looking forward to our monthly book talks more and more. I had planned to spend my entire career working in aerospace, but after two years of enjoying similar public service ventures on behalf of the space industry, I resigned and returned to college to earn a second degree in secondary English education."
Ms. Robinson retired in 2015 after eighteen years in the classroom. Throughout that time, the passion that she felt during her first experiences with teaching remained strong and translated into innovative and meaningful activities for her senior English students. Her student-centered classroom nurtured critical thinking and the exploration of literature as a study of the human condition, while encouraging imagination and self-discovery. Whether her students were writing elegies for a memorial service for characters in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, participating in a mock trial or poetry slam, or analyzing thought-provoking prose, the seniors were interested, creative, and hardworking. They would not have had the opportunity to engage deeply with the literature they studied without Ms. Robinson's enthusiasm for their learning and dedication to the teaching profession.
Ms. Robinson possesses a professional philosophy that all students can achieve great things when challenged. She set high standards in her classroom and developed rigorous, yet interesting assignments that pushed her students to not only succeed, but also developd college-readiness skills.
Ms. Robinson wrote, "When my seniors enter college as freshman, I want them so prepared that there are few challenges a professor can present to them that will scare or puzzle them. If they leave me loving literature and excited about conveying their thoughts on paper, then that is the greatest contribution I can give my students. Reading, writing, and critical thinking are the foundation of all academic courses and later employment; thus, we English teachers are an important component in every child's academic life. What drives my enthusiasm and actions are the learning manifestations that continue after I remove myself from the classroom's center and allow my seniors to freely think, challenge, and shape ideas independently."
Her students, in fact, were the top scoring AP English students in Dallas ISD—no small feat. She credits their success to the extra attention and hours of instruction she was willing to provide. With extraordinary dedication, Ms. Robinson conducted AP tutorial workshops outside of classroom hours and even on Saturdays.
"I push my students, and I likewise push myself. We support an open enrollment AP Program at my school. AP English teachers do not have an opportunity to interview and select from the top performing students; thus, my students come to me with varied abilities. Planning lessons, analyzing student work and progress, collaborating with other teachers, and enhancing my own knowledge—all require work beyond the school day. Therefore, to ensure that I prepare my diverse learners for the rigor of the course, I offer tutorial workshops on my own time before and after school and on Saturdays. A typical campus workday for me often begins at 7:00 a.m. and ends at 7:00 p.m. I offer specialized before- and after-school workshops three to four times a week. Since we are a magnet school and have students who attend our school from all over the county, on Saturdays, if our building is not opened, I meet with my students at the Pleasant Grove Library from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; then I often drive fifteen miles to the Hampton-Illinois library in another part of town to meet with students who live in that vicinity from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m."
Coming from a highly technical background, Ms. Robinson's class thrived with technology-centered instruction. She used interactive white boards, wireless tablets, web cameras, and a variety of other cutting-edge tools to engage students—technology that she has acquired by writing grants and through donorschoose.org. Ms. Robinson was able to have remote face-to-face discussions outside of class and made recordings of her lectures and lessons available online via an electronic discussion group.
Intent on also engaging her students through service, Ms. Robinson linked academic activities to community projects throughout the year. In October, her students participated in Make a Difference Day, collecting and donating canned goods while at the same time reading literature that highlights benevolence and charity.
"I learned early on that students are equally interested in knowing that teachers not only teach from the brain but also from the heart. I make sure they know I care about them, and I model behavior that lets them know I also care about others through activities that merge the goodwill of learning with opportunities to pay it forward."
Ms. Robinson—or Ms. Rob, as she is affectionately known by colleagues and students alike—is truly an outstanding educator. When her students designed their senior t-shirts one year, they included the following on the back: "You have been Rob'd if: 1.) You are never late to English, 2.) Your brain hurts by the end of class, and 3.) You graduate college ready."
Reflecting on her career and her award, she commented, "Receiving the Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching Award was such a distinguished honor. It was, indeed, one of the pinnacles of my teaching career. The timing of the recognition made it even more special. It happened during my last year in the classroom prior to retirement after many fruitful years in education enforcing high academic standards and achievements. The award was a welcoming recognition at the end of my prodigious journey!"