Teachers are some of the most admired, though unsung, people in America. Yet we can name at least one superstar teacher whose story is so remarkable, it's hard to believe.
His name is Ron Clark. In 2000, the Disney entertainment empire chose him as its "teacher of the year" from among 80,000 nominees! And Oprah Winfrey, the billionaire TV host who runs a multimedia empire, named Clark her first "phenomenal man." Someone even made a movie about this guy.
From his experiences in New York City's predominantly low-income Harlem neighborhood, Ron Clark developed a teaching approach called the "essential 55" classroom rules to keep youngsters happy, peaceful, and engaged in their studies. That's a lot of rules, but from all reports, even troubled kids who learn them turn into achievers. Soon Clark was writing two books and speaking before other teachers in 49 of the 50 states.
But this fellow was no youthful overachiever. He was a vagabond world traveler – a singing and dancing waiter for a time – who found his calling in the classroom.
This fall, in a converted warehouse in one of Atlanta, Georgia's, most dangerous neighborhoods, he will open a school for just 60 lucky middle-school students. Supported by lavish donations from high-tech companies, kids at the Ron Clark Academy will learn music, art, athletic skills, and Clark's "55 rules" in addition to traditional academic subjects.
And imagine this for inner-city children: They will also take 30 trips each year, including some to every other continent, save for Antarctica, by the time they move to high school.
More Ron Clark books, TV appearances, and lectures are sure to come from this. Not bad for a singing waiter!