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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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A Teacher Punished for Innovation (True Story)

Roughly 12 years ago, I visited the Ron Clark Academy (RCA), an internationally known, private school in Atlanta, Georgia, that models the possibilities of creativity, innovation, energy, and rigor in education. There, I was greatly inspired and influenced by co-founder, Ron Clark’s teaching style, and other teachers at the school.

(Note: I recently had the chance to bring a group of teacher candidates to RCA, which prompted this blog).

I returned to my job-a public school teacher of fifth-grade gifted students-with renewed motivation, energy, and classroom techniques. I dove headfirst into implementing these strategies and experienced some positive results. For instance, I remember the assistant principal observing me and commenting on how I didn’t have discipline problems that other teachers experienced because the students were too engaged and moving too much for that to occur.

Within several years, my student’s test scores also greatly improved (in my eyes, only one measure of a teacher’s success). The students also seemed happier to be in class and looked forward to coming to school. I also had parents beginning to form an unofficial waiting list, requesting that their child be put in my classroom.

Then, an interesting thing happened.

A neighboring teacher (picture the stereotypical older teacher with her hair tied in a bun, sweater, glasses at the tip of her nose, I kid you not) began complaining about me. Though I was getting positive results, she claimed my class was simply the “fun class,” and I was gaining a reputation of not being taken seriously.

I also had to relocate my classroom. That’s right, I got called into the administration office and was asked to move my classroom to a corner classroom down the hall, during the middle of the school year. I was told to continue teaching the way I was teaching since it apparently worked with the students and parents, just to do it down the hall with my door shut.

Ouch.

During my recent visit to RCA, Ron Clark told the audience that he was similarly told to “keep his door” shut when teaching since his style was upsetting other teachers. This guy went on to win the Disney teacher’s award, and they made a movie about his life!

That’s the price, I suppose, for being innovative. That’s what can happen when you decide to creatively engage students, to push past traditional teaching boundaries, to forgo using worksheets all day. It’s not right. It’s downright unfair. But it’s reality.

I share my story because I want you to be prepared. If you are a creative teacher, if you like to use music, movement, technology, and experiment with new methods, then get ready to experience push back. It could come from your administration, most likely fellow teachers, maybe parents. But when you make waves, you will experience bumps in the road.

So then question is: are you willing to take a risk? To upset the status quo in the name of innovation education? Do you believe the classroom should be a place of energy, engagement, enjoyment, positive relationships? Then, the choice is clear.