Over 25 years, "The Oprah Show" saluted dozens of the world's best teachers who were changing the world one student at a time in their classrooms. One of Oprah's all-time favorites was Ron Clark, a high-energy teacher from North Carolina who never stops smiling. After teaching in a rural area for five years, he moved to East Harlem on a mission to help improve the struggling schools in the area.
"I am driven and I have a vision for these students, I have a vision for their future," Clark told 'The Oprah Show" back in 2001. "And I want them to succeed."
His boundless energy and fun-loving spirit was infectious. "As long as you have the ability to learn, he can do anything with you," one young student said. "He can make you a star."
"I wanted to build a school that would be creative, filled with innovation and the best teachers in America," he says. "We ended up finding a location in downtown Atlanta, Ga. It was a 100 year-old factory -- the windows were busted out, it was an eye sore on the community. And I looked at it and I said, 'This is it; this going to be our school.'"
At The Ron Clark Academy, it's not uncommon to walk into a classroom and find a teacher rapping the day's lessons or dancing on the desks. It's a little different, Clark admits, but there's a method to the madness.
"We're about how to truly get to the heart of being a great teacher," he says. "It's about the eye contact, the relationship, it's about how you question kids, it's about the movement. Teachers should have their hands above their waist at least 60 percent of the time. Teachers should be happy. When you're in a good mood, studies have shown the students are going to be more likely to remember and believe what you say."
His students seem to agree. "Well, he makes me laugh and that makes me smile and want to learn more," 5th grade student Laila Perryman says. "He does cheers every now and then for us to get up and have more energy when he's teaching."
Sixth grader Jaydon Linsey says the teachers take the time to really get to know their students. "They actually pull you out, one on one and talk to you, like what do I need to do in the lesson to make you focus in class, to make you exceed or anything," he says.
And the school has the numbers to prove it. Students at The Ron Clark Academy have typically seen double-digit increases in test scores. The first four graduating classes went on to receive over $5 million in scholarships to premiere high schools.
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