I was not mentally prepared for my experience at RCA…but I’ll get back to that in a bit.
My principal introduced me to Ron Clark and the educator’s conference way back in September when I told her I’d won a PD grant that I had to use before July. She quickly handed me Ron Clark’s book The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck and I couldn’t put it down! It validated so many of the things I was seeing and feeling as a middle school teacher. So we signed up and went back to work. I was energized and excited, but then, as so often happens, reality caught up to me.
I was new to the district. I gave up coaching a sport I love and missed it. Discipline problems, exhaustion, negativity…crept their way into my mind and heart. I was not the best teacher I could be this year, but I persevered like so many of you reading this! I crawled to the end of the school year after giving everything to my students I possibly could, and WE made it together. The last day of school came and went…and then I found myself on a flight to The Ron Clark Academy.
It really is like Disney World for teachers. Dragons are everywhere! The Houses and cafeteria are designed like Hogwarts. There are hidden passages throughout the building. The classrooms embody the teachers’ personalities, and the hallways are covered in smiling students’ pictures and powerful quotations. There is even a SLIDE!!! Seriously! Beyond all that, the autonomy, teamwork, energy, and passion blew me away. They struggle too, but as a school they are a family. I want that! I can see that happening where I work…but it’s going to take time. I loved talking with the educators at RCA, but more so I loved hearing the students describe how and why they do what they do. They’ve bought in…they feel loved…they’re excelling. It’s not about the songs or the Djimbe drums I loved so much (I’m getting one this summer!!). All those bells and whistles are awesome, but at the end of the day it’s about the FAMILY. What I saw at RCA was a learning environment focused on high achievement and FUN!
FUN. In her book THRIVE: 5 Ways to (Re) Invigorate Your Teaching, Meenoo Rami says, “The challenges that our students will inherit in the forms of poverty, global warming, access to clean water, and wars are going to require empathy, innovation, and creativity.” (This, btw, is the book club read I won the E-Learning grant for…) Tell me how our students are going to be adults capable of solving the world’s problems with creativity and innovation if we don’t empower them to do that in our classrooms? The Ron Clark Academy does that. Ron Clark, Kim Bearden, and the staff of RCA live that! Their stories are our stories, and I saw so many similarities between those teachers, myself and my colleagues. You can do what they do…subtract the huge investors and Oprah…those educators TEACH. Take them out of that amazing facility, and they would still TEACH!
What now?! Now I take this fire I have in my soul and find a way to ignite the amazing educators I work with everyday to keep going! We can do this!
I refuse to let myself get stuck. I will not make excuses. FULL STOP!
P.S. In The Ron Clark Academy, there is a wall with pictures of the staff and below each picture is a motto or mantra. Our first night there I stood and read all of them, and I asked myself what my mantra would be. Here it is – “Shake Up The World” A Peace Corps friend of mine was told that by his father and even had a tattoo of it on his arm. As a Social Studies/History teacher, that’s exactly what I intend to do everyday. Create a ripple effect by shaking up the world for myself and my students to explore and change for the better!