The Inspired Teacher
To Ron Clark, mentoring his students and teaching them rules of manners and respect are among the keys to their success.
Ron Clark has made it his specialty to go into classes filled with the “most difficult” students in the school and turn the class around, both in North Carolina and in the Bronx, New York. Called “America’s Educator” by Oprah Winfrey, Clark is the author of “The 55 Essentials: An Award-winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child,” a national best-seller. Clark, who is 42 years old and has been teaching for 12 years, feels that learning can only happen when the students become a family—which implies acting with respect and manners. He has just started a middle school in Atlanta to implement his philosophy. The dramatic story of his time in the Bronx has become "The Ron Clark Story," a made-for-television movie that debuted recently on TNT.
Can you talk a little about where you grew up and what your journey was? It sounds like you didn’t expect to be a teacher.
I grew up in a small tiny town, in North Carolina, population 400, and all my life I wanted to get out and have adventures. My family never had a lot of money to travel and so I never got an opportunity to scratch that itch. I went to school at ECU, Eastern Carolina. I graduated and went to work at the Dunkin’ Donuts. I saved up $600, I thought I was high on the hog.
I got a one-way ticket to London and flew there, and I became a singing and dancing waiter at a restaurant called The Texas Embassy Cantina. I got my backpack and went all across Europe. I went country to country, and I loved it! For the first time in my life, I felt really alive, and I was seeing what the world was about.
I ended up in Rumania, staying with a family of gypsies. Whatever they fed me, I ate it, 'cause I didn’t want to be disrespectful. One time they fed me something, I wasn’t sure what it was, turns out it was rat. I got really sick, I had food poisoning. I kept getting weaker. So I flew home to North Carolina, and my mama said, “Listen to me, these adventures have got to stop!” And she told me at the local elementary school there was a fifth-grade teacher who passed away. It was a rough school, she said, they had a hard time getting teachers in that area. She said, “If you don’t take that job, that class is going to have substitutes for the rest of the year.”