By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
“Dr. Raja” was selected as one of California’s Teachers of the Year for 2011.
“I have students who have failed all their lives,” says Kadhir Rajagopal, who is also known as “Dr. Raja.” “They come from poverty, broken families; they have incarcerated parents and other problems. But that doesn’t mean they can’t learn math.”
A member of the Twin Rivers United Educators Association, Dr. Raja inspired a math turnaround at Grant High School in Sacramento. His solution to students failing to understand math included developing a system called CREATE that uses repetition to teach concepts, staying active in class, immediate rewards for success, and employing tough love when students are slacking.
Dr. Raja believes that learning has to happen in class. He doesn’t follow textbooks, assign homework or spend lots of time lecturing to his students. Without homework, he finds students are more willing to pay attention in class. If they have trouble, he will tutor them at lunch or after school.
This young, energetic teacher also succeeds by reaching students on their level. He is highly interactive and uses their vocabulary. “Oh, this is a hecka bad boy,” he says to his students of an equation while writing it on the board.
Mostly, Dr. Raja gives them what students of this generation crave — immediate rewards. If students raise their hand and correctly solve a problem in class, for example, 10 points are immediately added to their grade. If they answer a question right on the board, a piece of candy magically appears on their desk. If they need help, Dr. Raja is there. He flies around the classroom at a frenetic pace, lavishing points, praise, rewards and help. It’s a lot of work, but he knows instantly whether his students get it. Mostly, they do.
To be certain his students have mastered certain concepts, every class has an “exit” assignment: a math problem based on the material covered in class. If they get the right answer, they pass the “exit” assignment. Students who didn’t understand the day’s lesson must stay after class or come in at lunchtime for extra help. The next step is that Dr. Raja will call a student’s parents or their coach in sports to make sure there are consequences. Every parent is on speed-dial.
“I’m a bulldog,” says Dr. Raja, somewhat ferociously.
“He called my dad,” agrees ninth-grader Hernan Espinosa. “He had me stay after school so he could help me. I didn’t know how to do this before, but now it’s easy for me.”
Kadhir Rajagopal was selected as one of California’s Teachers of the Year for 2011.