Teachers from the Waxahachie, Ennis and Midlothian ISDs gathered Tuesday at the Waxahachie Civic Center to hear internationally renowned teacher and motivational speaker Ron Clark.

Clark was named Disney American Teacher of the Year in 2000 and is a New York Times best selling author who has been featured on “The Today Show,” “CNN” and “Oprah.”

Clark’s first teaching job was in rural North Carolina working with minority students in a low-wealth area. His creative and innovative teaching style gained worldwide attention, including several invitations to the White House to be honored with his students by the president.

Later, as a teacher in inner-city New York, Clark began the school year by Later, as a teacher in inner-city New York, Clark began the school year by visiting the home of each of his students. By the end of the school year, the students who had been labeled “low achievers” prior to becoming Clark’s students had earned higher test scores than the students classified as “gifted” in his district. Clark’s teaching experiences in Harlem, N.Y., are the subject of the Emmy-nominated film, “The Ron Clark Story,” starring Matthew Perry.

Clark is also the founder of the newly-opened Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Ga., that serves fifth-grade through eighth-grade students who are from low-wealth areas.

Clark entertained and inspired his audience Tuesday morning with personal stories of his teaching experiences. He told of how, while teaching in Harlem, he connected and motivated his students by learning how to double-dutch jump rope so that he could participate with them in the activity. Prior to a learning trip to South Africa with his class, Clark gave his students an assignment to read the biography of Nelson Mandela, who they then had the opportunity to meet while already having knowledge of his life experiences.

In June, Clark had what he described as the joyful experience of witnessing the graduation ceremonies of each of the 37 students from his Harlem classroom years ago. The dropout rate in Harlem is 65 percent, yet 100 percent of Clark’s 37 students graduated from high school with honors.

Northside Elementary fifth-grade teacher Glynis Butler said she was very motivated after hearing Clark speak.

“I hope I can carry his passion for students and learning into the classroom and I hope I will be willing to always go the extra mile and to realize it’s my responsibility to all students to help them be the best they can be,” Butler said.

“He was the best, most inspiring speaker I’ve ever heard,” said Waxahachie High School and Ninth Grade Academy theater arts teacher Ryan Mullican. “It was heartfelt. He believes everything he said. It was amazing. I was completely enthralled from beginning to end.

“It has inspired me to build upon things I think I already do,” said Ryan, who said he agrees with Clark about the importance of getting to know students and their families.

“It was inspiring,” Waxahachie Junior High School eighth-grade science teacher Helen Sellers said. “It was awesome. I cried through the entire thing.”

Throughout his speech to a large and attentive audience, Clark encouraged the teachers and school administrators to “Dream big for these kids (their students). Put passion in your classroom, smile and be excited. Have high expectations.”

Parents and teachers can visit www.ronclark.info for free teacher resources, an interactive message forum, photos/videos, lesson plans and all of Clark’s educational products.

E-mail Jennifer at jennifer.howell@waxahachiedailylight.com