For 28 years Maggi Robson has been teaching children that what goes around, comes around. On Monday, Robson found her lessons had not gone unheeded.
The discovery came in the form of 23-year-old Northridge resident Randy Hite, who had Robson as a teacher when he was in sixth grade a dozen years ago. Hite, now the personnel manager for a Northridge discount store, visited her class with a gift of supplies and an artificial Christmas tree--repayment, he said, of all that Robson had given him.
For Robson, the donation was a bright spot in a bad year. In July, while she was on vacation, an unknown arsonist torched her classroom at Cantara Street Elementary School in Reseda and destroyed a career’s worth of tapes, photographs, poetry and teaching materials. The loss left her so devastated that she said she couldn’t bear to return and took a two-month stress leave.
“I went over the edge. Twenty years of my life just up in smoke,” said Robson, 59, an emigre from Manchester, England.
Robson came back to a rebuilt classroom earlier this month, and has resumed teaching with her trademark combination of militant discipline and eccentric charm.
She addresses students as “duckie” or “love,” unexpectedly breaks into songs, and deflects back talk with preemptive strikes such as, “Do it because I’m smarter than you.”
The students aren’t sure whether to laugh or salute. They end up looking bemused, and doing what they’re told.
“I chose never to marry, so this is my identity,” Robson explained, gesturing toward her class of fifth-graders working quietly behind her. “This I created as my life.”
Hite said he found out about the fire when Robson mentioned it to him while shopping at his store.
“I decided I wanted to do something for her, she had given so much to me,” said Hite, who is in charge of choosing needy causes for the Northridge Target store’s yearly Christmas donation.
Hite said he always remembered Robson as an “extraordinary teacher . . . She has the most positive attitude I’ve ever seen.”
At Hite’s recommendation, the store provided Robson with a $200 gift certificate. She used the money to buy, among other things, a set of thesauruses, a dictionary and beginning English books for her students who speak other languages.