The movie that I am about to share with you not only helped bring back the passion in my teaching but also prompted me to take on a more exciting and holistic outlook in my approach towards education. It inspired me to be creative and innovative in my approach towards to teaching. It all began in 2007 when after 23 years of teaching, I found myself falling into an abyss. Teaching had become for me a routine or a habit. The fire of passion for teaching was slowly flickering away. A multitude of questions like tiny light bulbs began to flicker on and off in my head.
What has happened to my passion for teaching?
Why is it so difficult to reach out to the students?
How do I make my students see the “whole picture”?
Why can’t I get the students to think for themselves?
Is it me or is it the students or is it the curriculum or the whole education system?
At the same time , there was an increasing need among educators to produce thinking students, to get students to think out of the box, to stop spoon feeding students and the general feeling that the education system has become just too exam-oriented. I too began to reflect on what education meant for me and its influence on my teaching. This quote by Paul Hurd was constantly on my mind, “Too many facts, too little conceptualizing, too much memorizing, and too little thinking.” I felt that this is what many educators and students began to think of education. The joy and journey of acquiring knowledge had become tedious, dull, stressful and painful. Was this how learning was supposed to be perceived?
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In my search for answers, by chance I happened to watch this TV movie entitled “The Triumph- A true story or The Ron Clark Story”. This movie not only inspired me but it rekindled the burning passion of what it means to be an educator. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of my students. I wanted to teach them how to learn, enjoy learning and become life- long learners. A tall order I realized but if Ron Clark could achieve it than so could I.
Ron Clark was voted in 2000 as Disney American teacher of the Year. He is also the founder of the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, United States. His highly effective and innovative teaching methods and curriculum garnered national attention and an invitation to the white house to be honoured by the President of the United States.
The movie, The Triumph tells of an inspiring story of an innovative, energetic and passionate teacher who leaves his small hometown in North Carolina to teach in a notorious suburb called Harlem in New York. Ron Clark was employed as a 6th grade teacher for a group of students who were unruly, rude, irresponsible, not motivated and had no hope of graduating to high school. He took on the task of improving the class scores and helping these students pass the state examination.
Through his ground-breaking classroom rules, highly innovative teaching techniques and an undying devotion to his students, Ron Clark was able to encourage and push these 6th grade students towards their greatest potential. He had made a significant difference in the lives of these students. He believed in the concept that an educator is one who wears many ‘hats’. Besides being the source of knowledge for the students, an educator also guides, advices his students on moral and social issues. An educator helps build the personality and aides in his or her students’ attitude towards learning.
The story begins with a thought provoking scene in his school in this hometown . While waiting to be shown to his new class he notices a student standing in a trash bin outside a classroom. Curious he asks the student why he is standing in the trash bin. The student replies that the teacher said, “I can’t learn so I should go out with the trash”. He then introduces himself as Mr. Ron Clark and asks the boy his name. Within a few minutes Ron Clark pretends to forget his own name and asks the boy, ‘Sorry, I am so forgetful, could you please tell me my name”, and the student replies, “Mr. Ron Clark”. Ron Clark then tells him, “See you just learnt something” and he takes the boy out of the trash bin.
Two important quotes came to mind when I was watching this scene.
It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
The teacher who is indeed wise, does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of his mind.
What is significant in this episode, is that Ron Clark is a teacher who sees what can be accomplished by a student, he sees the potential in the child. As educators aren’t we suppose to encourage and motivate our students. Research has shown how the role of individual differences among learners has significantly contributed to learning and motivation (Corno and Snow, 1986). Teachers need to remember that learners’ process information in many different ways. Some learners learn in a series of logical steps from beginning to end while some others prefer to begin with an overview initially and then fill it in with the details. Therefore as educators our primary responsibility is to inspire, encourage, and serve as facilitators in the learning process. Ron Clark by showing the student that he can learn and has learnt resulted in encouraging the student to want to learn. This is seen when he eagerly asks Ron Clark if he was going to be their teacher.
I would like to quote here what Yero, Judith (2002) reported, that meaningful education will continue to elude educators until they understand how teacher thinking profoundly influences what occurs in the classroom. Why is it that one teacher perceives a student as “disruptive” while another perceives that same student as some with “potential”? Ron Clark believes that every student with the right approach and encouragement can be taught.
On his first day at the Inner-city elementary school in Harlem, New York, he was warned by the Principal that this grade 6 class was the least disciplined group. He endures the rudeness of the class and tries to know the students better by visiting them at home. It is only then that he realizes that these students do not get the attention and importance from their family. He then creates the family feeling in the classroom by creating distinctive rules in his classroom and uses creative and innovative teaching methods suited for his students. He does not believe that one type of teaching method fits all.
Ron Clark sets out to build a rapport with his students by playing with them and teaching the weaker students in his spare time. He creates exciting challenges to promote discipline and good study habits among his students. In addition he constantly applies different teaching techniques to instill learning. When he is diagnosed with pneumonia and was advised by the doctors to stay home, Ron Clark video tapes his lesson. This is to ensure that the students are not behind for the examination. At the end everyone was amazed with the class performance. One student Shameika Wallace even had a perfect score. Ron Clark practiced what Alfred Adler, the founder of Individual psychology said about educators. Educators must believe in the potential of his pupil, and he must employ all his art in seeking to bring his pupils to experience this power.
Ron Clark dedication and perseverance as an educator paid off in the end. It also made me realize that to be an educator is a vocation. It is a calling for selflessness, steadfastness, tenacity, creativity and the love for knowledge. Ron Clark’s passion and attitude for teaching was exemplary. His love and faith in his students was awesome. The movie showed us that he was never tired of trying out new teaching techniques to help his class learn and grasp information they need. He is also constantly encouraging them to dream big dream and believe in themselves. There is a scene in the movie when Ron Clark explains to the principal that the problem is not in the kids. It’s not even what they can achieve. The problem is what you expect them to achieve. You are setting the bar here. Why? Set it up here! They can do it.
According to Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan (2002), it is what teachers think, what teachers believe and what teachers do at the level of the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young people get.
Another scene in the movie that got me to reflect on my philosophy as an educator as well as my classroom management style was this dialogue between Ron Clark and his students.
Ron Clark: Everything we do in this room (classroom) personal. How we talk to each other,
how we work together and how we’ve prepared for these tests.
Students: But we are way behind now.
Ron Clark: We’re not behind, you are way ahead.
Student: Everyone thinks we are losers, Mr. Clark.
Ron Clark: No, you are not losers
These rules. They represent everything you’ve accomplished this year.
Discovering new things, believing in each other, believing in yourselves.
And I am proud of youâ€¦.
You didn’t work hard all this year just to get ready for these tests. Everyday in this
room we are learning things far more valuable than you can get in some book. I
teach you and you teach me and together we learn to love to learn.
Listening and reflecting on this dialogue helped me realize that if we are not careful, students will only think of education as taking tests. These students will not be inspired with a love for learning and therefore as educators we fail to instill lifelong learning skills in them. Bill Beattie, a teacher and coach says that the aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.
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While Eric Hoffer says that the central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning, it should produce not learned but learning people. At this point I questioned my role as an educator, how can I be an educator that makes a difference in the lives of my students. I was determined to make a difference as an educator, no matter how small the difference it had to start with me. I wanted to put back the passion in my classrooms, research has shown that if the students are happy to be in the classroom, they will do much better.
This true story touches and focuses on the quintessential values of teaching and challenges current notions about education. It is as Ron Clark says, “It’s your job to believe in these kids, to educate them and to discipline them. We’ve got to help these kids believe in themselves. We’ve got to lift these kids up. That’s the power we have as individual teachers.”
It stops to make one think that an educator can have all the knowledge but he or she must know how to deliver this knowledge in the way that promotes learning and thinking. This is what teaching is all about. As educators we need to “ignite the flames of knowledge and discovery. If learning is not about exploration, critical thinking and problem solving then everything we do as educators are meaningless”.
(Dr. Mimi Oshunbunmi, http://www,whyweteach.com)
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