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AU News

Acclaimed educator Ron Clark lauded AU’s College of Education programs

March 4, 2016

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Ron Clark prances.

He also gallops, skips, hops, spins, twirls, dances, poses and gestures in what appears to be an attempt to occupy every square inch of the Henderson Auditorium stage at Anderson University’s Rainey Fine Arts Center.

Ron Clark is a teacher and administrator by day, but on this late winter evening, the bestselling author has morphed into a philosopher, salesman and recruiter for his profession. In the audience are AU students, as well as teachers and administrators from around South Carolina’s Upstate region.

Laughing, groaning, sympathizing – but most of all listening – this group of educators and soon-to-be educators are in the palm of his hand, much as one imagines Clark’s students are in his Georgia classroom each school day.

“We’re the strongest people in this country,” he declares to his rapt audience. “I want to be part of a profession that I can be proud of.”

Clark, founder of Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, made the trip up Interstate 85 to the AU campus on Feb. 29 for a presentation and book signing. He is the author of several teaching-related titles, including The Excellent 11The End of Molasses Classes, and Move Your Bus.

His first book, The Essential 55, is a cross between a classroom management guide, a Southern etiquette handbook and the Robert Fulgham essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” It earned him the money to start Ron Clark Academy, which opened in 2007.

The school, with 113 students in grades 5-8, is also home to a trio of faculty who are AU grads: James-Michael Hogue, Hope Wheeler King and Wade King (Hope’s husband).

“I wanted to come up and learn more about the program here, see what’s going on and just be a part of this energy and this movement,” Clark said after his book signing. He pointed out that Ron Clark Academy attracts hundreds of job applicants each year. “We have the choice of who we want to hire. The fact that we have three from the same college is a testament to the great work that’s being done here.”

Hogue and the Kings joined Clark in Anderson for his presentation.

“I don’t think I could have gone to a university that could have prepared me any better,” said Hogue, a 2013 AU graduate.

The audience for Clark’s presentation included AU graduates who are currently teaching at Anderson’s Homeland Park Primary School. Jamie (Rusnak) Davis, a 2009 grad, recalled using The Essential 55 in a Classroom management class at AU.

“Not only does it teach children to be enthusiastic about the classroom, it also teaches citizenship skills,” she said.

Jessica (Simmons) Davis, a 2008 grad, said Homeland Park uses Clark’s materials for professional development. She said she also has a current AU student as a student teacher.

“She’s a lot more prepared than some of the other student teachers,” she said.

Homeland Park second-grade teacher Lesley McCabe is a former paralegal who graduated from AU’s Master of Arts in Teaching: Elementary Education program in 2013.

“His vision of getting to know the whole child and establishing a relationship is very important,” she said of Clark.

Clark’s willingness to bond with his students has been well chronicled. Earlier this year, a video of him performing a hip-hop dance routine with his students went viral. It has earned more than 3.7 million views so far.

Without seeming to brag, Clark spun numerous anecdotes during his presentation that explained his efforts to go the extra mile.

“You’ve got to do something above and beyond and big so kids can see how hard you’re working – so they will work hard for you,” he said.

One lesson that began with a local newspaper classified ad eventually got USA Today involved and earned Clark and his class a trip to the White House and a meeting with then-President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

“It kind of gives us an idea of what we should be like in the classroom,” said Madeline Helms, a freshman from Rock Hill, South Carolina. Helms was one of a number of AU Teaching Fellows at the event. The South Carolina Teaching Fellows program helps recruit and provide leadership training to talented potential teachers.

Wade King endured the same hardscrabble childhood many Ron Clark Academy students currently face. His ability to build rapport with pupils was revealed at AU, where he graduated in 2008.

“What Anderson University poured into us, one of the foundations of the education department, is the light you can be for others,” he said.

Hope King, a 2007 grad, says AU’s emphasis on putting education students in a classroom teaching environment helps set it apart.

“I learned early how to build relationships with kids,” she said.

Clark said it’s vital that aspiring teachers experience life in a modern classroom.

“Parents are crazy. There’s test-score drama. There’s discipline issues that we didn’t have 30 years ago,” Clark said. “The preparation is becoming much more real-world, which I think is a good thing.”

Clark, who grew up in rural eastern North Carolina, almost didn’t even become a teacher.

“I was the first person in my family to ever go to college,” he said. But he was able to finance college thanks to a scholarship for education majors. After a backpacking trip across Europe following graduation, he found himself back home and taking a teaching position as a midyear fill-in, which is where he found his passion.

After five years of teaching in North Carolina, Clark moved to New York City to see if he could make a difference at a school in Harlem. Finding chaos, he said he was spat upon and had to break up frequent altercations.

“You know it’s bad when they make a movie about it,” he joked.

Those experiences in Harlem, where he continued to hone many of his innovative teaching techniques, became The Ron Clark Story, starring Matthew Perry.

Eventual success led to Clark being named Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2000 as part of The Walt Disney Co.’s American Teacher Awards. Through that program he met another top teacher, Kim Bearden, who is a co-founder of Ron Clark Academy.

While aiming to inspire (more than 3,000 educators visit Ron Clark Academy each year for professional development), Clark also pulls few punches in assessing the state of American education, or the students and young teachers who participate in it.

“We’re raising a soft generation,” he said. “Why does every kid have to get a trophy?”

The message resonated with Andrew Reeves, an AU senior from Conway, South Carolina, and a Teaching Fellow.

“He has a real good perspective on the condition of America right now and how that condition is manifested in the education of children,” said Reeves, who is considering becoming a high school teacher and/or missionary. “I really admire that passion to instill a work ethic.”



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