Strive For Perfection

Ron Clark Math Class

Teaching legend Ron Clark patrols his 5th grade math class, teaching me a lesson I will never forget.  The atmosphere was simply magical.

Core scripture“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Message: Teacher confession … I am a softy.  Always have been.  With my students, my boys, my youth group at church.  I tend to lean on the side of grace.  I despise conflict.  Oh sure, I talk a good game that first week of school, but as the year progresses, my expectations lower.

How so?  My students are rarely in their seats at the bell.  When I say, “No talking,” there are always a few that talk.  And then there are my boys back home.  My third grader negotiates with me like a lawyer.  When mom is not home, that kid can squeeze dessert out of dinner like none other.  All because I love him.  And because I don’t want to see a tantrum.

Love is not bad.  Love is great!  However, you have to weigh love with a bit of discipline.  The wisest man of his time, Solomon, got it right when he said, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).  Finding that balance is the key.

I was blessed to take a two-day trip to Atlanta last week to visit the Ron Clark Academy.  Friends, you would be flabbergasted at what I saw!  Amazed beyond belief.  I have never seen a school so structured, so passionate, so full of life.  Ron Clark himself led the charge, yet his entire staff all held the same philosophy.  They balanced structure, discipline, and respect with creativity, passion, and enthusiasm.

Let me give you a small glimpse of Ron’s math class.  The kids eagerly shouted out answers as Ron instructed from the tops of the desks near the front of the room.  The kids listened to each other.  They synergistically worked together with passion, craving knowledge.  But there was something that confused me.  Multiple kids were pointed at and ran to the front of the room to write their names on the whiteboard.

I whispered to the gal next to me, asking what that was all about.  She had no clue.  At lunch I found out.  A sweet 5th grader in that class—we will call her “A” to respect her anonymity—told me that those kids who wrote their names on the board were in trouble.  I was baffled.  In trouble for what?  Apparently they were not rising to the expectations Ron had set forth.

A name on the board is a warning.  A check mark means a silent lunch.  Two checks means a phone call home.  Three checks?  Saturday school and a phone call home.  Every teacher had that same philosophy, and they stuck to it.  They strived for that perfection.  And guess what?  The kids stuck to it!  I never saw one check mark that entire class.

I delved deeper into the discipline.  I asked “A” what these kids did wrong.  She was quick to respond that they were not focused.  They were not paying attention.  They were not listening to the kids speaking in class.  From my eyes all were perfect.  Not from Ron’s perspective.  Or the students’ perspectives as well.

Ron apologized later.  These kids, one month into school, were not even close to where he wanted them to be.  Yet when I saw these sweet fifth graders dominate that math lesson, they were beyond perfect in my eyes.  What was the difference?  Expectations.  He expected perfection, and he was reaping the benefits of that philosophy.

Ron, why could this amazing experience not come a week before school started, brother?  My students would be so much more structured and disciplined.  And my third grader might actually stop acting like a spoiled teenager.  (I still love you, Little Buddy!  With all my heart.)

Ron’s philosophy makes me think of Jesus’ expectations during the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ always set the bar higher in Matthew 5.  You say you have never committed murder, yet you “murder” with your words (verse 22).  You say you have never committed adultery, yet you lust with your eyes (verse 28).  How does He finish?  With that somewhat intimidating scripture above.

He charges them to be perfect.

That is the difficult part.  We know we are anything but perfect!  We are all sinners, falling short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), yet that is why Christ died for us.  That is when grace comes in handy.  Ron balanced that discipline with a tender care that made every kid want to strive for perfection.

I will close with this thought.  What is your win?  Where do you want your students to be?  Hey, quarter one may be close to done, but in quarter two there is much to do.  For me at least.  I want my students to respect me and each other.  I want that structured yet loving classroom atmosphere that Ron Clark modeled.  I want to raise my expectations to where they should be.

Baby steps.  One step at a time.  It may take a while, yet I know that kids will catch on, and I know that my God can move mountains.  Why?  Because all things are possible through God (Matthew 19:26).

Discussion:  Where are your students falling short of your expectations?  How can you take baby steps in fixing this classroom management issue?

Quote: “Students will rise to the level of expectations, Senor Molina.” (Jaime Escalante in the movie Stand and Deliver)

Movie application: The Ron Clark Story is sure to inspire you to have high expectations.  And guess what?  It is absolutely free to watch on YouTube.  Get ready to be inspired!

Prayer: Lord, may my expectations of my students be as high as possible, pushing them to the next level.  Amen.



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