Robert Riddell was happy working as a teacher’s aide at Tracey Elementary School in Norwalk, but he felt he was missing something.
“I wanted my own classroom," Riddell said. "I was looking around, knowing I wanted to teach. And it was just a matter of getting that degree."
In 2006, Riddell enrolled in the University of Bridgeport’s accelerated adult IDEAL Program to earn his bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
With classes offered in the evenings, he was able to keep his job at Tracey, where he later completed his fieldwork. He graduated in 2009 and is about to receive his master’s degree from the University of Bridgeport to be a certified teacher.
Riddell says it’s his dream to work at Tracey as a full-time teacher, not only because the Norwalk resident graduated from there as a child, but also because it’s where he picked up tips from the teachers he assisted.
He has gotten to know the students there as well, many of whom have special needs. Over time, he has witnessed their academic and social triumphs.
“I try to treat all kids as equally as possible, and it’s my goal for everyone to treat them that way,” Riddell said. “Sometimes, people look at the disability first and not at the child.”
In fact, it was the perseverance of one student who encouraged Riddell to go back to school. He worked with one young boy who had Down syndrome from his entry into kindergarten through fifth grade and documented his progress along the way.
“I always said that I learned more from him than I ever could have taught him. If this child could do this with disabilities, there’s no reason why I can’t go after my own dream.”
This summer, Riddell opens another phase of his life as he and his wife, Rebecca, welcome their first child.
“It’s all finally coming together,” he said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s very bright.”