When renowned educator Ron Clark ’94 joined his students in a dance video as part of an online contest earlier this month, he didn’t think it would go viral. He was just doing what he’s been doing since he graduated from East Carolina University in 1994: having fun with his students.
Students at the school he founded, Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, wanted to participate in a challenge from rapper DLow, who asked fans to submit videos of themselves dancing to his song “Bet You Can’t Do It Like Me.” The students performed popular hip hop dances like “the whip” and “the nae nae” – and got their teacher to join in.
Clark posted the video to his Facebook page on January 4, and from there it took on a life of its own as viewers shared it across multiple platforms. The video gained coverage from Fox, CNN, ABC and more. Total views topped 80 million earlier this week, according to Clark.
“They asked me to be in it,” Clark said. “We thought we’d get a few hundred likes. I posted it, went to dinner, and then I looked at my phone and saw we had thousands of ‘likes.’ It’s been crazy. We just thought it was something silly and fun.”
Known for his energetic and inspirational teaching style, Clark first gained national fame as a Disney Teacher of the Year in 2000. His book, The Essential 55, is a New York Times bestseller with more than a million copies sold. Using the earnings from his book, Clark opened his academy in the fall of 2007.
“At our school, we do a lot to get the kids to love learning, like travel and hands-on experiences,” he said.
Making learning exciting is just one reason why Clark was recently named one of 50 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, a $1 million award quickly becoming known as the Nobel Prize of teaching. Now in its second year, the award is given by the Varkey Foundation as a way to recognize the best teachers in the world.
“It is a tremendous honor to be in the company of such great educators,” said Clark, who was nominated by a former student. “I’m glad the foundation has found a way to honor teachers everywhere.”
This is not the first time Clark has sung and danced with his students. He has had videos go viral before, like “Geometry is Killa-Hot” and “You Can Vote However You Like.”
Clark has been incorporating music and pop culture into his lessons since he was a student teacher at ECU. When his students were bored during a high school history lesson, he wrote lyrics about the World Wars to the tune of the song from the hit 80s TV show The Love Boat.
“They thought I was crazy, but by the end they didn’t want me to leave,” he said. “I realized that if I put in more effort to make learning exciting, then the students would put in effort and get excited too.”
Clark is proud to show his love for ECU on his classroom walls. Many ECU graduates are among the 32,000 teachers who have visited his school to learn his techniques. For most of the past 20 years, Clark has brought some of his students to the ECU homecoming game.
“ECU is my second home,” he said. “I’m a Pirate at heart. ECU made me who I am today.”
By Jackie Drake