Written by David Vogel Tuesday, 03 May 2011 15:44
As this school year comes to an end, Hillsboro High School will be left without one of its most valuable, respected and dedicated resources. Social sciences teacher Jim Robb will be retiring this month, leaving behind a legacy of student learning and growth.
I first had class with Mr. Robb my junior year of high school in 2006.
Scuttlebutt about teachers always filters down from upperclassmen through hallway lore. Mr. Robb was no exception. By the time my class was preparing to enter his classroom for the first time, a sort of respectful legend had already been established at Hillsboro High.
Mr. Robb possesses the reputation of a tall tale, a status that is more literal than you might initially think.
His broad frame towers over his students; a summit of white hair covers a mind with more information than my classmates or I could ever hope to possess. And when lecturing, Mr. Robb is famous for his signature gestures, waving his large hands through the air as if beckoning a distant friend to come nearer.
Rumor was these motions actually allowed Mr. Robb to pick up a signal directly from CNN, a testament to his seemingly infinite reservoir of knowledge of history and current events.
But as that school year progressed, we quickly came to realize that Mr. Robb was an above-average teacher for far greater reasons. Not only does he possess unquantifiable intelligence and knowledge, he is also dedicated to and passionate about passing that knowledge to his students.
Sometimes at any cost: Pity the student who succumbed to the temptation of a nap during a Mr. Robb lecture.
Yet, his class was more than a lecture accompanied by hand-written overhead projection notes.
Whether there was a model of the Gettysburg battlefield stationed in the middle of the classroom or we were holding a mock trial in the Supreme Court, Mr. Robb always aimed for complete student participation.
Mr. Robb’s goal to completely immerse his students in the subject matter of which they are learning is remarkable.
While studying World War II, we watched a film titled, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which is actually called “Im Westen nichts Neues” because the whole thing is in German.
And while studying civil rights, an entire day was dedicated to replicating racial segregation, in which each student was assigned one of two wristband colors, which either awarded or prohibited a student special privileges.
As a class we visited the voting booth to learn the election process, analyzed vintage documents to understand deeper social implications of historic events, played the stock market game to understand historic economics and we even spent an entire day at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene to experience the opinions, conflicts and events of nine African-American students taking their first steps into an all-white high school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957.
And this all led to Mr. Robb’s unit exams, which were hand-written photocopies mostly consisting of essay questions.
Mr. Robb intellectually pushes his students farther than they think they can go. I believe this is because Mr. Robb sees the potential in every student who walks into his classroom, and because he cares enough to create the necessary environment to bring that potential out.
Skeptical of the necessity of learning history at the beginning of the year, I eventually went on to spend an entire spring break producing an inch-thick World War II project of war overviews, timelines, social, cultural and economic home front descriptions, military leader biographies, an interview with first-hand witnesses and more photos, maps and graphs than I care to mention. And what’s more, I enjoyed it.
I was so excited to turn the project in two weeks early that I neglected to record and cite all of my sources.
It’s now been several years since I first entered Mr. Robb’s classroom, but I’m still finding use for the information bestowed me in his lessons. Just the other day I had a conversation about FDR’s New Deal and fireside chats. And in my last column I made a reference to muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel “The Jungle.”
And I know that Mr. Robb’s impression has not only been left on me, but also my classmates and the many other students that he taught during his tenure at Hillsboro High School.
I hold the utmost respect for Mr. Robb and his passion for learning, and I am sad that forthcoming Hillsboro students won’t get to experience his legendary, creative, driven and dedicated teaching.
Mr. Robb, thank-you for the investment you have made not only in my education, but in the education of all those you’ve taught. You will be missed, and we salute you. Albeit, with slightly smaller hands.