Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Clark walks on, yes that’s ON, the students’ desks, checking work, praising those who solve the problem and encouraging those who have the wrong answer to try again.

After a few minutes, students take turns at the front of the class, working through the problem together. Clark encourages those who did not get the correct answer to share where they made their mistake. There is a clear expectation from Clark that the students pay attention and learn, and the students are clearly engaged.

At one point, a student at the board accidentally utters an unacceptable phrase. Clark’s quick and low, “Don’t say that” is all the reproof required. The student checks himself and then continues – but appears upset. Correctly finishing his portion of the problem, he sits down, then walks out of the classroom to collect himself returning a few minutes later.

The class moves onto a different problem. With the students shouting out the answer to each step, Clark completes part of the problem. Clark then calls for the same student to approach the board again to work the problem. Clark erases part of the problem and writes an incorrect answer, then sits down. The student stands up, he notes that the number is wrong. Clark acknowledges his mistake and tells the student to correct it.

My guess is that Clark’s mistake is an intentional one, part of the learning experience. It shows the student there is no shame in making a mistake, correcting it, and moving on and exhibits why he is regarded as such a great teacher.

It’s not the dancing on the desks, it’s not the chants and stomps – it’s Clark’s ability to connect with his students that makes him a master teacher. The singing and stomping is a tool to engage them. He cares about his students, has high expectations for them, and teaches using real-life examples. Based on my 30 minutes in his classroom, it works – he’s making a difference.

We are not the only visitors. Teachers, administrators and other educators travel from across the country to watch the classes, and listen to the teachers talk about their approach to teaching students.

While not all teachers will feel comfortable standing on desks, it’s not the tactics that are as important as the results. It is about engaging students, getting them interested in learning and improving themselves.

The teacher who made the biggest difference to me was my college economics professor, Dr. Fred Chapman, who believed that I had more in me than I thought I did. His encouragement and expectation helped me excel.

My daughter’s teacher Leigh Jackson engages her students in a different way, sharing funny stories about her cats “Moca and Espresso,” and stories about cooking. “I share with them what’s in my heart,” she told me.

Maybe that’s all that’s needed.

Perhaps we should forget the talk about education systems and school systems – it’s not the system that teaches, it’s people like Clark, Chapman and Jackson. The question is how to get everyone else out of the way – and support the teachers so they are able to grab the teachable moments when they come their way.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.