Robbins is enjoying her 29th year of teaching in the Catoosa County school system and her second time being honored with the Teacher of the Year award. She began teaching fifth grade at Cloud Springs Elementary right out of Dalton College in 1982 (where she eventually received the award in 1990), but jumped at the chance to be closer to home six years ago when a third-grade position opened up at Ringgold Elementary.
She said her initial and natural desire for social services in her youth probably played a big part in directing her path toward teaching, but there were a few special mentors along the way as well.
“I didn’t particularly want to teach, but I’ve always loved people,” said Robbins, “and wanted to serve them. For me, it’s all about leading in service.”
She also said she adored her own Ringgold Elementary fifth-grade teacher, Mary Ann Hughes, for making fifth grade “come to life” with penny collections and games. Robbins said she still endeavors to be like Hughes by striv-ing to prove that “education can be as much fun as it is anything.” Robbins also mentioned Carolyn West, a teacher and friend at Graysville Elementary who was faithful in drawing her into teaching positions at church and encour-aging her along the way.
Calling her profession “the toughest job she’s ever loved,” she said she probably puts in between 50-60 hours a week, but she still loves it as much today as she did in the beginning because of the connection with her students. Without a doubt, she said her main objective has always been to inspire her children and help them be aware of and compassionate toward those around them, even those outside the boundaries in which they live.
“My primary goal is to bring the world to my children,” said Robbins. “I want my children to understand the world and what it’s all about. I want my children to be inspired to leave me and always remember me as the one who inspired them to become a volunteer to serve their city, their state, their country, their world. I love planting the seeds of inspiration for them to want to take note that this world is a lot bigger place than Ringgold or Catoosa County or Georgia. I bring the world to them in my classroom.”
Robbins said the school standard can be hindering, but by bringing in something personal, she manages to fulfill her goal while meeting the guidelines. With classroom walls covered in pictures of “heroes” in society, she stresses human rights, civil rights, women’s rights and workers’ rights to blend her goal with the required standards of the classroom.
Another highly effective tool she implements to connect her students with the world is the internet. She has brought children from the Ukraine via technology into the classroom to meet and communicate with her students and is currently in the process of establishing a book club between the two classrooms to build relationships and let the students share their perspectives with each other.
“I want the students to see that every country has its struggles,” said Robbins, “much like our slavery. I want them to understand we have our freedoms and can do things like vote and we can maintain those rights while other countries are so neglected. By bringing their needs, their lack of freedom, their fight for independence and democ-racy into our classroom, it makes it very real to the students and my hope is that it will inspire them. I’d have no greater happiness than to know one of my children wanted to go out and make a change for the world.”
Outside of the classroom, Robbins stays very active physically, walking and running and biking on a daily basis. She also loves to read and spend time with her church family at First Baptist Church in Ringgold, where her hus-band of nearly 31 years (Ken) is the financial administrator. They have one son, Ben, who graduated from Ringgold in 2004 and served in the Peace Corp in the Ukraine for about 2½ years. Robbins said she had the privilege of visit-ing her son and working in the Ukrainian schools on two occasions in the past and is planning to visit him this summer in Italy, where he is now attending the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAICS).
Robbins said she plans to teach until it’s time to retire, but joked that she plans to leave “when they still think I’m crazy for even thinking about it”.
“I’ve always said I want to retire when I still have a little to give,” said Robbins. “I never want to leave a trail behind where people think, ‘I’m glad she’s finally gone.’”
When asked about her reaction to being voted by her peers as Teacher of the Year at Ringgold Elementary, Robbins became a bit emotional with gratitude and said she was very humbled by it.
“I’m just a creation of the people that have made me — my teacher friends, my husband and son,” she said. “I don’t feel like any one particular talent I have is my own talent. Everything I am is because of these beautiful peo-ple with whom I’ve worked at Cloud Springs and Ringgold Elementary. I am a little bit of each one of them versus being my own true person. I know without a doubt I wouldn’t be who I am without them and my family. The ones you surround yourself with make you who you are. I never feel sufficient. I felt like, ‘Why should I be honored when you are the ones who made me who I am?’ If I’ve learned anything, it’s that sometimes you’re really not your own person at all.”