Henrico’s Top Teachers – Robert Rice
Elko M.S., social studies
Former students frequently drop by to visit Robert Rice or invite him to lunch, coffee, birthday parties, high school and college graduations. But this year was the first time, he says, that he was invited to the wedding of a former student.
“Not wanting to dwell on how old this made me feel,” he recalls, “I had to ask why was I invited. I was told by the bride, ‘Why wouldn’t I invite my favorite teacher?’”
Touched by the praise, and by being included in such a personal event, Rice went on to have a wonderful time reuniting with former students and their parents at the ceremony. The bride also told him that she was becoming a teacher, and that he was partly responsible for her choosing that path.
Despite the numbers of students who continue to stay in touch, and others who Rice “checks in with” from time to time, he is surprised – and maybe a little amused – that any student would want to contact him after moving on. “They know that just because they leave my classroom, doesn’t mean they’ve left my clutches!”
He is often “floored,” he adds, that the former students still remember things that were done in class years ago. “And they know,” he says, “how easy it is to get me to cry too.”
A recent encounter that Rice admits drew some tears was related to a civics project that he has assigned for many years. The project requires students to pretend that they are 18 and fresh out of high school, and that they must live on their own for one month. Using the newspaper, internet and job and apartment guides, they must find age-appropriate jobs, apartments for rent, and transportation – then figure out to pay their bills.
As this school year began, Rice received an email from a former student. “She informed me that when her mom lost her job during the summer, they used my project to help budget their household,” he says. “She let me know that my project played a large part in helping them through some pretty tough times.”
Rice also has a gift for teaching history to his students, who say that he teaches in a way that is interactive and engaging and helps all students understand the material. More than one former student has stated that he or she was never interested in history until having Rice for a teacher.
“But he made history so fun,” wrote one, “that I thoroughly enjoyed going to class. Now, almost five years later, I still attribute my love of history to Mr. Rice.”
One former student called Rice “the most motivational and inspirational teacher I have had” in HCPS, and said he made her “fall in love with history.” He teaches the subject with such enthusiasm, she wrote, that it makes students want to learn.
It was his passion for history that led him to the profession of teaching, says Rice – even though not all of his own teachers were good ones and some he described as “pretty terrible.”
He credits Moody Middle School teacher Bonnie Geiger (now retired) with shaping the way he teaches middle schoolers.
“All through college, I was preparing to teach high school,” says Rice. “When placed at Moody, I thought I was being punished by my advisor. Thankfully, Mrs. Geiger was there to show me that middle school was the best place for me to be.
“I still use her lessons and worksheets in my classes . . . 15 years later.”
Rice drew praise from nominators not only for his skills in the classroom, but also for his participation in PTA and school pageants, and for supporting his students outside of class by cheering them on at after-school activities and athletic events.
Other students expressed appreciation for the tutoring, advice and listening ear he gave them. “He is always there to lend a helping hand to a struggling student,” said one.
When another student was struggling with her feelings over losing a close relative, wrote a parent, she turned to Rice. “Mr. Rice had something about his caring for his students – not just their grades, but overall well-being – that made her think about life and that she still could exist among others and allow them to care.”
Another parent wrote that Rice has a high-energy and creative personality that makes even typically-unmotivated students want to please him, adding that students also bond with Rice because he respects their individuality. “He seems to make a personal connection with every child he teaches,” said the parent, who was echoed by a former student now in high school. “He is not only a phenomenal teacher, but a wonderful friend,” wrote the student. “He still keeps track of my grades and makes sure I am staying focused, even though I am no longer his student. There is no way I could be as successful without him.”
But the parents who have had multiple children in Rice’s classes are perhaps his biggest fans, citing the turnaround they have seen in children who complained about school but began to love it, and the way his students talk about him years after leaving his class. “There is no other teacher that I know,” said one, “[who can so] touch their students intellectually and inspire them with smiles on their faces.”
One parent of several children said that Rice’s impact has filtered down even to her four-year-old, who enjoyed and learned from the projects done by older siblings.
“I think,” she wrote of Rice and his relationship with his students, “that he literally would be their mentor for life.”
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