Robert Rigonan

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Robert Rigonan was born and raised in sunny San Diego. He graduated in 2012 from the University of California, Berkeley (Go Bears!), where he majored in society and environment (a social science major that uses the tools of geography, sociology, political science, political economy, and economics to critically analyze environmental issues) with a public policy minor. He focused his undergraduate studies on international environmental politics, post-colonial geographies, indigenous people’s rights, and natural-resource depletion in developing countries. His life's course changed in former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s class on inequality and poverty. Realizing the vast inequities in his own backyard led Robert to join Teach for America. He currently teaches sixth grade life science in the Las Vegas Valley. In his free time, Robert is an avid (and esteemed) chef in search of the perfect bite, a chronic napper, a hip-hop aficionado, and a lover of the great outdoors.

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When I entered the teaching profession, many warned me about the “disillusionment phase” to come. Though I anticipated some difficulty with teaching, when reality set in, I realized why people call October the dark days of teaching.

My first few weeks of teaching were amazing. I successfully introduced my class to scientific inquiry, found my students engaged with the curriculum, and encountered only a few behavior issues. I was walking on sunshine and telling myself “teaching is easy!”

Then a black cloud rose over my head. An almost paranormal shift occurred after the shiny days of September. Suddenly, the Las Vegas desert heat disappeared, the days got shorter, and my students were no longer perfect little angels. I left my desk each day with a giant pile of ungraded papers, and red Fs littered my grade book.

Photo by André Karwath via WikiCommons

It’s the first Friday of the school year, and I’m perched on my desk, screaming at the top of my lungs. My students’ jaws drop; has Mr. Rigonan lost it already?

“I AM THE LORAX AND I SPEAK FOR THE TREES,” I yell in my best Mario Salvio-exhorting-Berkeley-students voice.  The teacher next door knocks to make sure everything is OK (“I thought you were in trouble already,” she told me after school). I hear giggles, and 37 sets of eyes are glued to my next move.

“Remember to take observations on this mythical creature,” I whisper, switching from Lorax mode back to Mr. Rigonan. After 15 minutes of this one-man Seussian show, my students recite the Lorax’s final words in a rousing chorus: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Though reading a seemingly juvenile book to sixth graders who want so badly to grow up didn’t make sense to many of my friends and colleagues, I wanted to share my favorite piece of literature with my life science students. The Lorax introduces essential scientific concepts like note-taking, observation, systematic thinking, and the scientific method. More than that, I saw Dr. Seuss’s book as a foundation for the distinct culture I want to see in my classroom.

Photo by David Bjorgen via WikiCommons

Robert Rigonan is a member of the 2012 Teach For America-Las Vegas Valley corps.

In the dawn before my first day as a full-time teacher, I couldn’t help but revert to the Robert of eight years before. In my childhood, the final days of summer were spent playing video games into the early morning, sleeping in, and watching TV all day. I needed to treasure my finals moments of freedom—the calm before the storm. And every year, on the night before the first day of school , I’d have trouble sleeping, tossing and turning for hours on end.

Luckily, I grew out of playing video games all night and watching TV all day (although I haven’t grown out of the temptation to do so). The final days before my first day of school as a teacher have been spent tackling a never-ending to-do list. Still, the strange but familiar mixture of nervous, excited, scared, and anxious that bubbled in my blood during my schoolyard days remained the same. As I finalized my syllabus, tightened up my classroom rules and procedures, and thought about how my broad classroom vision will apply to my students, my mind raced with an infinite number of thoughts and emotions.

Credit: Eric Molina, via Flickr Creative Commons

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