What’s the secret to great teaching?
At the 25th annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture on Feb. 26, legendary educator Ron Clark said it comes down to “passion and energy coupled with discipline and manners.
“In life, people are always trying to tell you that you can’t do something, it’s not possible. When we have dreams, people say that they can’t happen—like when Dr. Holmes told people he wanted to come to school here,” Clark said, “When I wanted to build the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, people said it couldn’t be done. But that’s not the right message to be sending to these kids.”
Clark, author of the New York Times best-selling books The Essential 55 and The Essential 11, captured national attention when as a teacher he inspired a group of students from low-income households in Harlem, N.Y., to achieve the highest test scores in their school.
Since then, he’s gone on to promote his nontraditional teaching strategies on The Oprah Winfrey Show and built the Ron Clark Academy, a privately funded school in metro Atlanta.
American classrooms suffer from goals that are too shallow, Clark said. Teachers tend to give out As and Bs regardless of student performance.
“In our country, it seems that people are so concerned about hurting the self-esteem of children that we’re not being real with these kids. How do you expect these kids to soar and be prepared if you’re letting them settle?” he asked. “What happens is that these kids get to college and they’re not prepared. They’re dropping out.”
Clark also shared sharp words about class diversity. Too often he’s heard teachers say that they “don’t see color,” an oversight he doesn’t take lightly.
“If you don’t see color, you don’t see culture, and you’re not appreciating what this child is going to have to go through in life,” he said. “When you think about what our kids and our country are taught about African Americans, what one thing is taught? Slavery. It’s important. We need to teach about that. But the problem is that’s all we’re teaching.
“I don’t mind teaching them about slavery, but who’s teaching them about the great kingdoms and civilizations in Africa before they were slaves? Who tells kids about the civilizations of Mali and the great artwork of Sudan?” he added. “Why isn’t it taught? It needs to be taught. It gives these kids a sense of pride because they learn about their people.”
The lecture honors Charlayne Hunter-Gault and the late Hamilton Holmes, the first African-American students to enroll at UGA.