Article Collin Shamley | Photography by J Amezqua and Provided
Kim Bearden is co-founder, executive director, and language arts teacher at the highly acclaimed Ron Clark Academy, an innovative middle school and educator training facility in South Atlanta. Kim was recently honored at the White House for being named to the National Teachers Hall of Fame. She was selected from over 70,000 nominations to be honored as the Disney American Teacher Awards Outstanding Middle School Humanities Teacher. The Milken Family Foundation selected her to receive the Award for Excellence in Education, and she was chosen from among 7000 teachers as Teacher of the Year in Cobb County, Georgia.
Bearden is a keynote speaker with Premiere Speakers Bureau. Each year she speaks to thousands of educators across the country and around the world to inspire them and teach them methods for engaging and motivating students. Over the past twenty-nine years, she has been a teacher, instructional lead teacher, curriculum director, school board member, staff development trainer, and middle school principal.
Bearden has a unique way of showing her students what they learn in the classroom applies to real life. She became known for how she transitioned her classroom into different learning environments to teach her students curriculum standards in a way that inspired creativity and passion while teaching required context. For example, when her classroom was transformed into the Bearden Emergency Medical Center, the students quickly reported to their operating tables and prepared themselves for surgery.
Bearden often finds herself alone in her classroom, sitting in the desks of her students and pondering better ways to develop the relationships that are necessary in order to teach them all well. She thinks about the students that challenge her most and she meditates on all that is good within them. When she looks at her students, she truly believes in what they can become, in addition to who they already are.
I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Bearden, who is a phenomenal person on top of being a great teacher.
SFL: What is a favorite trip you have been on with your students?
For me the trip to South Africa. I’ve been blessed to go several times. That’s always been the most meaningful for me because I’ve been able to spend the most time getting to know the children in South Africa. I actually have three adopted sons from South Africa. While there, our students are able to spend the most time in classrooms and interacting with kids and visiting orphanages. Just the beauty of the people there and the joy and the resilience of the people despite the difficult circumstances that many of them live in is very inspiring to me and very transformational.
SFL: Can you recall a specific situation where a student taught you something?
Oh goodness! I wrote a whole book about that. I guess a better answer to that would be I have a whole book I wrote called Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me. And actually the whole book is about lessons I learned from my students, the lessons and everything from resilience, gratitude, the importance of play, laughter, joy, optimism, those kinds of things. Even through difficult times and circumstances and times that I have gone through in my life, I would always look to my students and see how strong they were and resilient and forgiving and loving they were despite their circumstances. And I would draw from that and get through very tough times in my personal life. We all have ups and downs and so my students have been a sanctuary for me almost at times and I’ve learned from them. So that’s why I chose to write an entire book about the lessons that they instilled in me.
SFL: What career would you have chosen if you were not a teacher?
I was one of those people who always wanted to be a teacher. I was one of those people who always loved school. I went to the University of Georgia, like you. I always loved to write so I thought about being a journalism major going into Broadcast Journalism. That was something I considered but when it came down to it I really wanted to be in a school with children every day.
SFL: What’s your favorite thing to do when you are not with your students?
I’m a very big family person. I’m fortunate that now I have a very large family. I have three adopted sons. I have a daughter who is 26 and I have a wonderful husband. Honestly our house is kind of the house where everybody comes. It’s not always tidy but that doesn’t seem to be what matters. It’s the house that all of our staff members come to hang out and well as my former students and my alumni. This weekend I had four of our alumni from our school stay at my house while they were in town as well as a house-full of other kids. I love being in the backyard, kids playing ball, cookouts and just being with the family. That kind of thing is important to me because I work so much and I work really hard. Time to relax is important too.
SFL: Is there a particular class you had or group of students that you’d say is your favorite?
No. I’ve loved every group of kids I ever had. I am very fortunate. But I will say that the original class of students who came to the academy the year we opened [is very special]… We opened the academy in 2007 with 60 students. The students helped to create what our school is today. Ron and I get credit for being the co-founders of the school but really those initial students that were there were sort of founders of the school as well. They helped us to establish the culture and climate of our school and to help think of some of the conditions and things we practice today at our school. I think because we built something together as teachers and as students I think there is a level of a bond with those kids that can’t be broken. I don’t think anyone can completely understand but I feel like we were all brought together for a divine purpose those first few years with those particular students because we had great work we wanted to do in the future. I’ve been teaching for 29 years and so I’m very fortunate that I’ve had so many kids that I love equally and I’ve taught thousands of kids over the years.