(CNN)Rodney Robinson's mom grew up during segregation and wasn't able to graduate from high school due to poverty. Still, she taught him to value learning.
He teaches incarcerated kids to honor his mom who was denied education. Now, he's National Teacher of the Year.
He took it to heart, becoming a teacher in order to honor her.
Robinson, who teaches at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia, was just named the National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
"He creates a positive school culture by empowering his students -- many of whom have experienced trauma -- to become civically minded social advocates who use their skills and voices to affect physical and policy changes at their school and in their communities," the council said in a statement.
The honoree is selected from 50 state teachers of the year from the states, plus the Department of Defense Education Activity, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
Robinson, 40, grew up in King William County in Virginia. He remembers sitting in the back of his mom's GED classes at his high school while waiting for a ride home from football practices.
His mom always wanted to become a teacher, but she never got the chance to. Sylvia Robinson grew up in rural Virginia, where "segregation and poverty stripped her of the opportunity to graduate high school and go to college," Robinson told CNN.
Instead, she ran her own day-care facility, where Robinson said she "taught lessons of equity and love."
After seeing his mom "transform" while pursuing her GED, Robinson decided to become a history and social studies teacher. He has been teaching for 19 years, and said his current students are no different from other high school students.
"They're typical students but, unfortunately, they have made mistakes and are now paying for those mistakes," said Robinson.