Jeffrey Roberson, Chris Newman
Chris Newman was a “snotty fifth-grader” at Woodridge Elementary School. He didn’t like teachers or most adults. He was having trouble at home. During class time, his mind was elsewhere. He did not see the value of being in school. It felt like doing time.
His teacher, Jeffrey Roberson, called him in for a talk. The boy braced himself for another boring lecture about the importance of improving his behavior and grades. Blah blah blah. Instead, he got something else.
“I was a lot like you at your age, but I was a lot smarter,” Roberson told him. “I was the class clown. I’ve been there and done that. Let me give you some pointers. Like if you’re going to pass notes in the classroom, do it when I’m passing out papers or when my back is turned. Let me show you how.”
Newman laughed out loud at the hilarious pantomime his teacher did on how to pass notes secretly. He saw Mr. Roberson in a new light. He was not just another boring adult. He was funny. He was different. He cared.
The student felt a connection. But he wasn’t ready to show it. Not yet.
One day Newman was extremely rude to his teacher. Roberson ignored him. He didn’t say a word, in fact. The boy thought he’d gotten away with it. Then Mr. Roberson passed out tests. And everyone got one but him.
“Where’s my test?” he asked indignantly. He might be a goof off, but he wanted his teacher to know how smart he was. Of course, Roberson already knew that.
“Oh, you don’t get one today,” his teacher replied politely. “You were mean.”
Newman asked again if he could take the test. He was told that if he was nice, he could take it alone during lunchtime. He took it and aced it.
Roberson asked him to join a group he’d started called The Gentlemen’s Club, which met at recess and was designed to build character. Members learn that females should be treated with respect, contrary to rap music videos they see. They perform community service. They are encouraged to act as role models to others. They think about the future and set goals for themselves. The club was just one of the things that made Roberson Sacramento County Teacher of the Year for 2013.
Newman didn’t want to join at first. Once he did, his grades went up. His attitude changed. Instead of doing the bare minimum, he challenged himself academically.
Newman is now a sophomore at Foothill High School in Sacramento. He hopes he can get a football scholarship for college. He still drops by to visit Roberson, a member of Twin Rivers United Educators.
“Mr. Roberson showed me what’s important about school and why I had to go to school. He used a lot of humor and music to keep me engaged. He made it easy for me to learn things and remember things. He taught me how to learn, and he made me want to keep learning. I’m lucky I had him for a teacher.”