Humor, Open Dialogue Key To Clark School Instructor's Classroom Style
June 08, 2010
Among the myriad pieces of plastic and paper taped or tacked to the walls of Corinne Clark's classroom, you'll find her sixth-grade report card, right behind her desk. And on that report card you will see that she received a C in math.
Clark, 29, said there are two reasons for posting her less than stellar grade. She wants her own sixth-grade students at Clark Elementary School in the city's North End to know that teachers aren't perfect.
But she also keeps it there as a reminder of someone she remembers as the worst teacher she ever had.
"She never even took the time to ask me why [I was struggling]," Clark said Friday. "I said I will never be like that."
In Clark's cool, windowless classroom, lots of questions are asked and answered, and the same is true for jokes and verbal jousting between the teacher and her 17 students. Occasionally a line is crossed, and apologies quickly follow, but Clark said keeping humor and an open dialogue are keys to her teaching style and ability to get through to her class..
"I want them to know I'm human," she said.
That style has brought her the honor of 2010 teacher of the year for Hartford's public schools.
"I was shocked because of the people I was competing against," said Clark, who was caught so off-guard that she hadn't bothered to write an acceptance speech for the surprise announcement.
But her students weren't surprised.
"I knew she was going to get it," said Raejon Gaines, 12, whose admires Clark's confidence in her students. "She always cheers us on."
For Jose Rodriguez, Clark's teaching style has been a key to success in the classroom.
"She answers questions, and when she teaches, she explains it," said Jose, 12.
Asked to describe Clark's style, Syhann McCoy, 12, chose one word: "Perfect."
For Clark, who was raised in East Hampton, the fear of not being perfect has kept her on her toes and forced her to constantly change things during her eight-year teaching career, which began in Lebanon after she graduated from Seton Hall University.
Clark left Lebanon, where she taught pre-kindergarten special education, after one year because, although she connected with students there, she felt no one would ever say, 'I'll remember her forever."
And after several years in Hartford special education at Milner Core Knowledge Academy, Clark had an opportunity to teach sixth grade at Clark School and jumped at it.
"I'm glad I switched," said Clark, who hopes someday to top the feeling of winning the award.
"Getting teacher of the year was fantastic," she said, "but if one of my kids goes off to college or calls and says, 'Come to my graduation,' that will be something special."
The other two finalists for teacher of the year were Timothy Clemens, a civics teacher at Naylor Elementary School, and Tracy Weisel, a special-education and reading teacher at the Hartford Journalism and Media Academy.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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