The Essential 55: An Award Winning Educator's Rules For Discovering The Successful Student In Every Child


When Ron Clark walked into his fifth grade class in rural North Carolina, he was confronted with a tremendous challenge. The children had little interest in learning and were sorely lacking in guidance. How would he transform a group of apathetic kids into diciplined, thoughtful, and curious students? He quickly realized that they needed to learn some basic rules. Clark compiled a list of 55 lessons and soon, his fifth grade students were reading at sixth grade level, and loving it. What's more, they were gaining...
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When Ron Clark walked into his fifth grade class in rural North Carolina, he was confronted with a tremendous challenge. The children had little interest in learning and were sorely lacking in guidance. How would he transform a group of apathetic kids into diciplined, thoughtful, and curious students? He quickly realized that they needed to learn some basic rules. Clark compiled a list of 55 lessons and soon, his fifth grade students were reading at sixth grade level, and loving it. What's more, they were gaining somethng crucial-self-respect. Those lessons evolved into The Essential 55-guidelines to living and interacting with others.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The winner of the 2001 Disney Teacher of the Year Award presents some revolutionary ideas for the classroom: manners, industriousness and accountability. Many of the 55 rules Clark outlines read, at first, like excerpts from a 1950's primer: "If you are asked a question in conversation, you should ask a question in return," says Rule 6; stand to the right on escalators, insists Rule 43; and rule 29 includes 26 sub-rules about polite eating. Clark may seem like a bit of a fussbudget, but closer examination shows his rules go beyond simple politeness: they promote respect for self and others, and help foster a mature and responsible way of living in the world. As Clark explains each rule, he weaves in anecdotes of student projects, class trips (including one to Washington, D.C., where his students sang Christmas carols with the Clintons) and instances in which the particular rule proved invaluable. Clark, a North Carolina native, writes with a warm, Southern friendliness, and his cogent explanations about why he created his rules and his closing tips on dealing with parents and children offer plenty of ideas and much-needed support. Teachers will have to be determined to succeed before any set of guidelines will have an effect in the classroom, he warns-and indeed, Clark's tireless dedication might be daunting to some. And while the content of his lessons is presented only vaguely, for inspiration, this book is a definite winner; it also makes a strong case that students lack only good teachers to achieve great things. Clark's slim but valuable volume will make a welcome addition to any teacher's library. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Clark is undoubtedly a dedicated, organized, and outstanding teacher, having won several national teaching awards in just a few short years in the profession. His ability to share his success with others, however, comes up quite a bit short of the mark. There are a few gems in this offering-such as the suggestion that when leaving plans for a substitute teacher one should set up a videotape to introduce the lesson and give a stern reminder of behavioral expectations to the students-but these precious nuggets are few and far between. The majority of Clark's rules are items that virtually every education student is taught, and the others border on obsessive-compulsive. For example, Clark's Rule #1 calls for all students to say, "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir." On the other hand, he has more than twenty-five rules regarding eating, and his instructions for how to wash up in the bathroom include absurd amounts of detail on how to exit the facilities without actually touching anything. There are also several of what appear to be overly harsh rules, such as if a student does not say "Thank you within three seconds . . ." of receiving a treat or privilege, that treat or privilege is irretrievably revoked. The remainder of the book is filled with inspiring and moving tales of Clark's impressive triumphs in the classroom, but all things considered, Clark earns only a C-grade for his efforts in trying to pass his success on to other educators. 2003, Hyperion, 196p., Ages 17 to Adult.
—Timothy Brennan
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401398460
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 2 CDs, 2.5 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xv
Introduction xix
Rule 1 Responding to adults 1
Rule 2 Making eye contact 2
Rule 3 Congratulating a classmate 6
Rule 4 Respect other students' comments, opinions, and ideas 9
Rule 5 If you win, do not brag; if you lose, do not show anger 14
Rule 6 If you are asked a question in conversation, ask a question in return 16
Rule 7 Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough and say excuse me 20
Rule 8 Do not show disrespect with gestures 21
Rule 9 Always say thank you when given something 24
Rule 10 When you receive something, do not insult the gift or the giver 27
Rule 11 Surprise others by performing random acts of kindness 29
Rule 12 When grading other students' papers, give only the correct grade 42
Rule 13 Follow along when we read together in class 46
Rule 14 Answer all written questions with a complete sentence 50
Rule 15 Do not ask for a reward 54
Rule 16 You must complete your homework every day 56
Rule 17 Subject transitions will be swift, quiet, and orderly 60
Rule 18 Be as organized as possible 62
Rule 19 When homework is assigned, do not moan or complain 67
Rule 20 When a substitute teacher is present, all class rules still apply 69
Rule 21 Follow the specific classroom protocols 74
Rule 22 You may bring a bottle of water to class, you may not leave for a drink of water during class 77
Rule 23 Know other teachers' names and greet them in the hall by name 79
Rule 24 Keep yourself and the bathrooms clean and germ-free 82
Rule 25 Greet visitors and make them feel welcome 85
Rule 26 Do not save seats in the lunchroom 88
Rule 27 Do not stare at a student who is being reprimanded 89
Rule 28 Call me if you have a question about homework and leave a message--once 91
Rule 29 The ABC's of etiquette 93
Rule 30 After dining in the cafeteria or elsewhere, be responsible for your trash 100
Rule 31 In a hotel room, leave a tip for the hotel workers who clean your room 102
Rule 32 On a bus, always face forward 103
Rule 33 When meeting new people, shake hands and repeat their names 105
Rule 34 When offered food, take only your fair share 107
Rule 35 If someone drops something and you are close to it, pick it up 110
Rule 36 Hold the door for people rather than letting it close on them 111
Rule 37 If someone bumps into you, say excuse me, even if it was not your fault 112
Rule 38 On a field trip, enter a public building quietly 114
Rule 39 On a field trip, compliment the place you are visiting 116
Rule 40 During an assembly, do not speak or call out to friends 117
Rule 41 At home, answer your phone in a polite and appropriate manner 119
Rule 42 When returning from a trip, shake the hands of every chaperone 121
Rule 43 On escalators, stand to the right, walk to the left 122
Rule 44 When walking in line, keep your arms at your sides and move quietly 124
Rule 45 Never cut in line 127
Rule 46 No talking in a movie theater during the movie 129
Rule 47 Do not bring Doritos into the school building 131
Rule 48 If anyone is bullying you, let me know 134
Rule 49 Stand up for what you believe in 137
Rule 50 Be positive and enjoy life 142
Rule 51 Live so that you will never have regrets 144
Rule 52 Learn from your mistakes and move on 146
Rule 53 No matter the circumstances, always be honest 152
Rule 54 Carpe Diem 156
Rule 55 Be the best person you can be 158
A Few Tips for Dealing with Children 161
Tips for Dealing with Parents 169
Tips for Setting Punishments and Rewards 181
In Closing ... 195
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Her name was Mudder. She loved Guiding Light, collards, and snuff, and she was my grandmother. Mudder stood right at five feet, but when she placed her hands on her hips, she was the tallest person in the room. She was definitely a lady who didn't put up with any nonsense, and she was respected by everyone around her; poor be the person who had to learn that the hard way. As I grew up, she lived with my family and had a strong impact on who I am today. She's one of the reasons that I feel so strongly about these fifty-five expectations I have of my students, as well as all people. She, along with my parents, gave me a true southern upbringing, which included respect, manners, and an appreciation of others. In addition to those ideals, I was shown how to enjoy life, take advantage of opportunities, and live every moment to the fullest. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by family members who were excellent examples of how life should be lived and not taken for granted.

Once I became a teacher, it became evident to me that many children aren't exposed to the type of guidance and opportunities that I had when I was growing up. I have tried to set an example for my students and be a role model like my family members were for me. In my attempt to give them an outline or a guide to how life should be lived and appreciated, I compiled this list of lessons. Over the years of working with kids and watching this list grow from five rules to a handbook of life's lessons, I have seen a remarkable difference in the way my students have held themselves, performed in school, and had respect for others.

I have used these lessons with much success with my students, but they are not only for children; most of the fifty-five items listed here can apply to anyone, young and old, from the housewife to the doctor, the politician to the waiter, and everyone in between. These lessons are about how we live, interact with others, and appreciate life, and, therefore, they speak to everyone.

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with children firsthand and develop the list of fifty-five rules into what it is today. It is an extension of my upbringing mixed with lessons I have learned about life, along with some rules that I have felt the need to adopt in order to maintain order with my students and get them to achieve their potential. However, the rules are more than about getting kids to behave; they're about preparing kids for what awaits them after they leave my classroom. It is about preparing them to handle any situation they may encounter and giving them the confidence to do so. In some ways, it is a fifty-five-step plan. The steps, however, are not sequential; they are all explained, practiced, and enforced from day one in the classroom. At the end of the year, I like to say that my students are "polished." I know I can take them anywhere, put them in any situation, and present them with any lesson, because they are at a point where they are receptive to learning and eager to experience life.

The time I have spent with children and teaching them these lessons has been wonderful, and I can't imagine doing anything other than teaching. That is ironic, however, because when I was growing up, being a teacher was the last thing I would have wanted to do. Going through school, I can remember having aspirations of discovering ancient tombs in Egypt, flying around the world as a field journalist, or going undercover as a spy in foreign countries. The thought of entering such a dull, unchallenging, and mind-numbing profession as education never crossed my mind.

When I was a senior in high school, I sat down with my parents and discussed my options for college. Both of my parents were very hard workers, but it was still going to be a strain for them to come up with the funding necessary to send me to school. I can remember my father saying to me, "Ron, that's not for you to worry about. That is our responsibility. You just concentrate on your grades." I loved them for the sacrifices they were willing to make for me, but I didn't want to put them in a situation where they would struggle to make ends meet. Around that time, I heard of a program called the Teaching Fellows Scholarship. Recipients of the award have all of their college expenses taken care of if they agree to teach in North Carolina for four years after graduating. I had no desire whatsoever to become a teacher, but I knew that taking the scholarship would make things much easier for my family financially. I decided I would use the funding to pay for my education, but after graduating I would not become a teacher. I would enter another profession that would allow me to make enough money to pay back the scholarship. It was not a plan I am proud of, but it made sense at the time.

Throughout college, I found that my one true love in life is adventure. I was up for any type of challenge that came my way, and that certainly led me to my share of wild moments. I once ran across the field of a nationally televised football game with my friend Bri, wearing only boxers and painted purple from head to toe, as we were chased by a gaggle of police officers in hot pursuit. While working at Dunkin' Donuts, and during a game of hide-and-seek, I hid in a warm, locked oven that was turned on, and because I had accidentally locked my coworker out of the building, Iáwas almost cooked to death. Also, even though I am terrified of heights, I have bungee-jumped, climbed mountains, rappelled off cliffs, and parasailed behind a boat off the Atlantic coast. When I graduated from college, I realized I definitely did not want to teach. Actually, I didn't want to work at all. Therefore, in search of more adventures, I moved to London and worked as a singing and dancing waiter. After six months of using my southern accent as a British tourist attraction, I left England and backpacked across Europe, finally ending up in Romania, where I stayed with gypsies who fed me rat, which made me so sick that I had to be flown home. My adventures certainly had their share of highs and lows, but even when I ended up sick, almost cooked, or in trouble with the law, the experiences were worth the costs, because I always walked away a stronger, wiser, and better person.

After I arrived home from Romania, my parents were extremely happy to see me, but I had no intention of remaining home for long. My friend Bri was going to live on the beach in California, and I couldn't wait to move out there next. My mother, however, was willing to do whatever it took to get me to stay put. She told me of a fifth-grade teacher in our area who had recently passed away. It was a sudden illness, and her students, the faculty, and the entire community were affected by her loss. Now let me tell you, we live in the country, and the population of the town, Aurora, is about 600. You have to drive twenty minutes to get to a stoplight, and it is difficult to entice teachers to the school because of the travel it would require each day. Mom told me that substitute teachers had taken over the vacant teaching position for a month, and that the class had become very unruly. The school was about 75 percent minority and most of the kids were on free or reduced-price lunch. I felt sorry for the students, but I was not interested in taking over this class of demanding, high-energy fifth graders, many of whom had behavior problems and learning disabilities.

I told my mother there was no way in this world that I was going to teach at that school. She told me in return that if I didn't at least talk to the principal, she and my father would be forced to stop lending me money to fund my adventures. The next day, I was the first person to arrive at Snowden Elementary School.

Even though I agreed to meet with the principal, I still had no intention of taking the job. My Aunt Carolyn worked there as a secretary, so I figured it would give me the opportunity to see her before flying off to California. Upon arrival, I visited with my aunt, and then the principal, Andrea Roberson, gave me a tour of the school and told me about the group of students I would teach if I accepted the position. She told me about how demanding the students were, of several with learning disabilities, and how I had to raise those test scores no matter what. I remember thinking to myself, "And this lady is actually trying to convince me to work here." I did act interested, but my heart wasn't in it. She then escorted me to the room that held the fifth-grade class. We walked in and there was a little boy, named Rayquan, sitting just a few feet from the door. He looked up at me with his huge, brown, round eyes and said, "is you gonna be our new teacher?" I can't explain the feeling that came over me; it was like an epiphany. The instant trust in his voice, the excitement all over his face, and his evident longing for stability called out to me. I knew that was where I was supposed to be. I looked back at Rayquan and said, "I think so."

Before taking over the class myself, the principal wanted me to observe the substitute teacher. She didn't want to just throw me in the class with no idea about what to expect from the group. The substitute in question, Mrs. Waddle, was an eccentric lady who always had a sandwich in one hand and whose matted wigs always seemed to lean to one side. On the first day I observed her, she became upset with a student who didn't know the answer to a question. She proceeded to draw three small circles in a row on the blackboard. She then instructed the young man to place his nose in the middle circle and one finger from each hand in the outside circles. She left him there and turned back to the class and asked the question again. The next student got the question right, and she threw her hands in the air and proclaimed that she felt the Holy Spirit. She then sang an entire verse of "Amazing Grace." Sitting there and watching this teacher for a students, projects that garnered worldwide attention, and a major move from teaching in rural North Carolina to Harlemáin New York City. Those events highlight my time spent working with children and my efforts to teach them these fifty-five rules. I have recounted many of the stories here. They show the highs and lows, successes and disappointments, and lessons learned along the way.

As you go through the list, there are some rules you may like and decide to use with students and children in your life, and there may be some that don't inspire you. We all have different levels of tolerance when it comes to the behavior of children, and we all have different levels of expectations for ourselves and others. I offer these rules as suggestions, as tried-and-true methods that have served my students well. I hope you find them useful.

Copyright 2003 Ron Clark

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