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.
When I first entered my classroom, I couldn’t picture middle school students sitting at each desk. In fact, the desks were stacked haphazardly in one corner. My only thoughts involved teaching: Within this space, my students have to be able to think, learn, and grow.
I went quickly to work on configuring my classroom for the year. In a manner of hours, my walls went from bleak white with a few vagrant staples poking through to eye-catching blue and gold. Next, I started thinking about the broad vision I had for my kids. The motto created by David Brower, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” provided the philosophical foundation for my class. I adopted a Lorax theme, adorning the walls with the forest spokesman and his memorable Seussian words. The environmentalist in me decided that I would track student progress through a “Forest Regrowth” tracker (which also happens to be related to the Lorax) using the symbol of rejuvenating a deforested landscape.
Fast-forward many cups of coffee and an entire week’s worth of work: My classroom is ready for students. As I made the finishing touches, I couldn’t help but anticipate the coming days. Will my students like me? Will they sense that I’m a new teacher? Will they be taller than me? My mind is still asking those same questions. Shaking hands with my students for the first time, I knew we all felt the same way—nervous and anxious, but excited to start our first day of middle school.
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.