Here’s a Teacher Who Shows Teaching Is a Profession of Love

Robert Gardley may be new to the teaching profession, but his energy and enthusiasm in working with youth is second nature to him. As the proud father of a 9 year old and 6-year-old triplets, he describes his entire life as being “kid-centered.” His own children and volunteer work with young people has allowed him to gain insight into their perspectives and acquire a better appreciation and understanding of the world. With a successful background in business, Gardley has a strong resume working for Lockheed Martin as a financial advisor, a uniform supply company in various aspects of management, and most recently at Sutter Care at Home. He loved his work, but he felt his soul wasn’t truly enriched. As someone who has always been involved with kids, starting in college with the YMCA of Palo Alto, he was tapped to run a teen center. Without experience or a degree in the field, he ran his programs with a student-centered mindset. “I would always ask myself, ‘If I were a kid, what would I want to do?’” he questioned. This mentality of putting students first was his key to gaining the community support needed and now has shaped his teaching philosophy and practices. While helping his children with homework, he realized that when he was growing up, he was always taught that there was only one way to find an answer, and now there are many avenues being taught to get to one answer. His tireless work as a father opened up his mind to how students think and develop. “Children are a lot more intelligent and understanding than we give them credit for. When you look at the world from their point of view, you gain a better appreciation and understanding because everything is brand new to them.” As a fifth-grade teacher, he loves going to work now. You can hear the devotion in his voice as he emphasizes the word ‘love’ in relation to teaching. “I can’t wait to show the kids this new science project or read them this new article.” The difference for him is teaching a new topic or concept to students and seeing the wonder in their eyes when they get it. That moment, for him, makes the career more than just a job, but an opportunity to allow students to see the possibility within themselves to be confident and push past what they thought they were capable of. “My teaching philosophy involves a lot of listening,” he describes. He believes that a successful classroom will be more of a conversation. He starts the day with a brainteaser and figures out what the students want to talk about that day and then finds a way to incorporate that into his lesson plans. He believes as an educator, it is his responsibility to use his life lessons as a teaching tool. He uses his shortcomings in the classroom and embeds his personal life into classroom conversations to help him better relate to the students. “I have flaws. I make mistakes. If I make a mistake, I’ll run up to it and admit it. Those are teaching moments.” He reiterates that he celebrates mistakes in his classroom because they are a constant opportunity to learn and improve. By role modeling mistakes, it allows students to feel safe in a space where there is no added pressure of ridicule or punishment for simply being themselves. One of the first things Gardley teaches in his classroom is that students are STAR (Safe, Team Players, Accountable, and Respectful) Students, as part of their school philosophy. In his classroom to take that further, he allows students to create their own class rules to hold themselves and each other accountable. Gardley is a firm believer in the power of energy, both positive and negative. It’s our role to be involved and be a presence in students’ lives because there’s enough negative energy out in the world that we don’t need to add to. His best advice for engaging youth? “Sit down and talk with your kids. Our students need love, especially African-American boys.” In his classroom, he can feel the tension release when a child hugs him because a simple gesture can make a world of difference in a child’s life. Let our students see responsible, accountable, respectful people in the work that we do to mold young adults. “It’s really simple,” he says, “Find something that you can do, whether that’s volunteering, coaching, teaching. Give what you can and show kids genuine love.” Sometimes we forget how important it is to be a constant in a student’s life to show them that we care. Mr. Gardley is a model of the fulfilling, yet steadfast work our educators do every day.
David J. Johns is executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. He is the former executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The Initiative works across federal agencies and with partners and communities nationwide to produce a more effective continuum of education programs for African American students. Prior to joining the ...

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