Ron Clark expects a great deal from his students - and himself

On Ron Clark's first day as a teacher, a colleague told him he'd be a success if he helped just one child.

It was a sentiment he immediately disliked.

"We have to approach education with the determination to affect each and every one of our students," he wrote in "The Essential 55," his personal rule book for good teaching that is selling almost as well as Harry Potter.

Mr. Clark's classroom style is larger than life. He teaches with boundless energy and joy, and he fully expects to make a difference. He began in a fifth-grade classroom where standardized test scores were at the bottom rung. By his second year, every student was passing, with some even performing at top levels.

This combination of a positive attitude with solid achievement secured Clark as the 2001 Disney Teacher of the Year after stints teaching in low-income neighborhoods in both North Carolina and New York City.

Wherever he works, Clark organizes his classroom around a highly structured set of rules and routines. Students enjoy the security of knowing what's coming, but also learn quickly that rules must be obeyed.

Teaching good manners and respect for others are as essential to Clark as the remarkable extracurricular events he arranges for his young scholars.

Special outings have included visiting the Clintons at the White House, attending the Disney awards ceremony in Los Angeles, and sitting in front-row seats at a Broadway show.

Wherever Clark's students go, heads turn at the sight of a group of fifth-graders who unfailingly say "thank you," address adults as "Ma'am" and "Sir," and stand patiently and quietly in line.

At the same time, Clark showers his students with affection. He bakes treats any night they all complete their homework, shows up at their basketball games after school, and occasionally jumps on a desk and breaks into song to reward good performance.

The magic combination of love and discipline pays off, educators say.

"When you've got a routine with consistent rules that offers a sense of security, and balance that with a loving, caring, learning environment that is creative in its expression, then you've got a classroom that's going somewhere," says Ray Johnson, an educational consultant in Detroit.

Clark thrives on that balance. "I can't imagine doing anything else but teaching," he says.

Traveling the country as an award winner, and being recognized by so many, has been nice, Clark says, but "it's driving me crazy not being in the classroom."

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