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Western High teacher strives to keep students engaged

Robin Bigda selected as a New Educator of the Year
Posted at 10:24 PM, May 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-18 01:24:28-04

Robin Bigda was told as she helped in her mother's classroom that she would make a great teacher, but she thought for years it wasn't the job for her.

"It was fate to be a teacher and I couldn't escape my destiny," she said, adding that the amount of paperwork initially deterred her.

Bigda, now an English teacher at Western High School, has been selected as one of Clark County School District's New Educators of the Year.

"I don't think anyone was more shocked than my mom when I told her," Bigda said of her mother who taught for third grade 40 years, including 20 years in Las Vegas.

After she left her an office manager job, Bigda's mentor -- a former teacher -- encouraged her to become a teacher through the district's Alternative Route to Licensure program. The program encourages candidates to have degrees in areas other than education.

Her degrees in journalism and anthropology from University of Nevada, Reno made her a good fit to teach English, one of the areas CCSD needs teachers. Bigda also has a degree in Spanish and is bilingual. She completed a 10-week teacher preparation boot camp last year and now has a conditional teaching license until she can complete her classes for a standard teaching license.

Through her preparation with the Alternative Route to Licensure program, she worked with a teacher in a ninth grade English class at Liberty High School. Bigda said it was a natural flow for her to teach freshmen English with plans to teach the subsequent grade levels.

"The goal is to move up with this class until they graduate," she said. "Since I am a new teacher, it's really beneficial because I will teach 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade and 12th grade and I get see the different curriculums and see the different novels ... By the time I get to 12th grade, I'll be able to figure out what grade is best for me."

Bigda keeps her classroom themed throughout the year with it most recently decorated with "Romeo and Juliet" as the students were studying the Shakespeare classic. She started the year with a superhero theme.

She said getting to know her students is essential to their success. Bigda held a Thanksgiving brunch over break for students who needed it and baked cookies for Christmas for all her students.

"Doing the little extra things here and there gets the students to want to do more in class," she said. "They've all told me that it's not the easiest class they have."

Bigda loves seeing students who hadn't previously been interested in English getting involved and doing well in her classes. She has noticed some students who were getting Ds in English now getting As.

"I get all into it, I get dramatic, I get passionate ... The more energy you put into the classroom, the more energy you get back from the kids," she said.

Bigda also created a book camp for students who accelerated in their material but weren't quite ready for the honors classes. She had 14 students to start but by the end of the year, 28 students were involved, many of whom will be in honors classes next year.

The kids read books and do projects in the book camp. While they read "To Kill A Mockingbird" in class, they read the sequel "Go Set a Watchman." They also held a trial for George in "Of Mice and Men" with each student playing a role.

In addition to being a teacher at Western, she also coaches the swim team. Bigda was a swimmer while attending Basic High School and knew when she became a teacher, she wanted to become a coach.

While Bigda hopes to influence the students in her classes, she has also noticed a difference with the students on the swim team.

"She's helped me become a better swimmer and a student too," said 17-year-old Jose Ramirez. "She not only pushes me at practice, but she also keeps me on check with my grades."

Bigda had the opportunity to teach at her alma mater, Basic High School, but felt like she was needed at Western High School, which is one of the most at-risk schools within the district.

"It's going to be hard but it's going to be worth it," she said.

Tracy Wilking nominated Bigda for the Educator of the Year honor.

"Robin loves working with students who are in tough situations or could use a little extra support," she said.

Wilking is a consulting teacher for the Peer Assistance and Review program, where consulting teachers regularly visit 25 of the most at-risk schools in the district and coach 250 new teachers throughout the school year.

"Since the beginning of the school year, I've watched Robin always go above and beyond what a normal first-year teacher is even able to do," Wilking said, noting the book camp that Bigda started.

Bigda is one of seven educators who received the award and the only one at the high school level.

"It was really unexpected and it was an incredible honor," Bigda said.

Among her advice to new teachers, Bigda said it's good for teachers to network and get to know everybody at the school because you never know when you'll need the support.

"You're going to have your really great successes and then you're going to have the parts that break the heart the most. But it all balances out and then you get into a rhythm," she said.