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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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Visiting the Ron Clark Academy: Mixed Emotions

The Ron Clark Academy, or RCA, is a renowned private school in Atlanta, Georgia, started by famed teacher Ron Clark and co-founder Kim Bearden. Recently, I had the chance to revisit the school. RCA provides professional development workshops for teachers who visit from around the world.

When I first visited the school some 12 years ago, I was greatly influenced as a new k-12 teacher. I returned to my classroom and attempted to implement techniques that involved setting high expectations, using music and movement, and being more dynamic in my classroom.

When visiting the second time, I had about 14 years of teaching under my belt and a PhD in education. Naturally, I had more experience and a new perspective. During this second trip, I experienced mixed emotions. Let me explain:

Inspiration

  • I was inspired by the amazingly hard-working teachers.  They were true professionals, from their immaculate dress and manners to their super-engaging instructional delivery and rapport with students. This is what we need—teachers that elevate the profession and ideally make young people say “I want to be a teacher.”
  • I also marveled at the sheer amount of creativity, playfulness, and joy permeating the school. Everything from giant slides in the middle of the school building, mural-covered classrooms, escape rooms, dragon statues, you name it.
  • To practice social skills, the RCA students eat lunch with visitors. I really enjoyed talking with these students and appreciated their manners and conversational skills. These students learn to have confidence, develop their own voice, and take risks.

Sadness

  • I see how excited visiting teachers get when walking the halls of RCA. But, as a former k-12 teacher in their shoes, I know what it’s like to go back to their public schools, which are often devoid of passion, creativity, and engagement. I suppose these teachers must be the catalyst for change, but this is a giant challenge given the bureaucracy of school districts and state-imposed regulations.
  •  I feel for students around the country-the world for that matter. They don’t have the opportunity to go this school. Their educational experience would be completely different.

I think a good analogy for my feelings about RCA would be it’s like when you go on a trip to a beautiful or foreign place, where things are buzzing, exciting, flavorful, interesting, then you return home and kind of feel down. The contrast between what is and what could be becomes apparent. Nevertheless, you begin dreaming about when you can return.