Boulder, CO — For many educators, teaching is not just about giving out information, but about seeing what students need on a personal and educational level. This is what inspires teachers like Robi Colon.
Colon, who teaches art to middle schoolers at KIPP Hatch Middle School, understands that they are able to give kids representation that they may not see otherwise as a nonbinary person. They understand that students may be able to identify with their experiences — and thus may be able to confide in them more easily.
Also known as Teacher Robi, Colon described a situation where a student had asked them, “Do you really think it's okay for us to be who we are? Like, do you really believe that?” They said, absolutely.
“There's not a single question in my mind, just me reaffirming that for them and then seeing them grow up to who they are,” Colon said. “Being non-binary, it definitely opens the door to having an open classroom, to have an open space. It definitely gives kids an opportunity to immediately see that there's a difference and be accepting of that.”
@nairobimakeba Reply to @brayden_clancy #nonbinaryteacher ♬ original sound - Nairobi
Having over 30 students in their care at a time, having to plan time to take care of their personal needs, and getting through lessons — Colon feels as though their profession is undervalued.
Education has gained a reputation for low pay. While the amount that teachers make varies from state to state, most make 20% less than most recent college graduates. Meanwhile, 90% of teachers spend money out of their own pocket on supplies.
This is on top of making sure students are provided with the proper resources that they need. Children who have special needs can have a harder time requiring those resources than others.
Often, kids who fall into the special needs categories are put on an individual education program otherwise known as an IEP. An IEP is designed to help students with physical, developmental and learning disabilities in school.
Despite the fact that policies such as these are in place, many students who do have a disability can still struggle to get the resources that they need. One of the biggest areas is inclusion in the classroom.
First grade teacher Leslie Olsen has seen what this is like firsthand with kids who are on the autism spectrum.
“With how little my students with autism are actually in the general-ed classroom,” said Olsen. “[The school] had a couple different autism programs, and I had such a hard time with how little my students with autism are actually in the general classroom.”
One thing that keeps Olsen going is the relationships that she builds with her students and their families.
“So my main mission statement is, as the teacher, to promote positive futures for students and families. I do think that, like the family, the students, family and adults in their life are number one on their team,” said Olsen.
Despite its challenges, wanting to make a difference in students' lives is what keeps both teachers motivated to stay in education. In order to make sure that happens, teachers have to have the resources to be able to do their jobs and stay in the profession.
Emma Schulman (she/they) is a student journalist majoring in political science at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Edited by shaylyn martos