At age 24 and just into his second year of teaching, Clint Smith has already developed a powerful voice—one that he expresses through his mesmerizing command of spoken-word poetry.
I had the joy of listening to Smith perform three of his original poems at the second annual Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers conference back in February. In ‘Aristotle’, Smith, a 10th grade English Teacher at Parkdale High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, artfully details his successful attempts to make the 1,000-year old words of classic Greek philosophers meaningful to Kevin, a 15-year old student with “academic apathy embroidered on his eyelids - and a stardust disposition - that could be seen all the way from the other side of this 1960’s kaleidoscope of a hallway”.
After class one day, Kevin asks his teacher why they have to study “this stuff”—the ancient Greek philosophers. Smith considered his response.
He told Kevin that the time of the ancient Greeks is not that different from his own, and gives examples through his poetry in a riveting way only Smith can. He told Kevin that Aristotle said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore, is not an act but a habit, so you better act like you have it because…your ideas are no less profound, your insights no less enlightening, your values no less important. There are brilliant words bubbling from your ball point tip of your pen if you would just take off the cap!”
Mr. Smith then humbly points out that it is ultimately up to Kevin. But if Kevin wants to become the “statistician rather than the statistic”, then Smith will work until “concepts like prison industrial complex and the achievement gap are archived into the library of America’s imperfections.” He goes on to challenge Kevin to show the world that within him, there is an Aristotle, a Plato, a Socrates. He continued:
Your Mount Olympus
Is standing right in front of your face.
Now it’s time to pick up your head and start climbing.
Smith’s words are powerful. His passion for education is inspiring. His dedication to his students is remarkable. He believes in his students, holds them to high expectations, and is relentless in helping them realize their potential.
Smith, a recent recipient of the 2013 Christine D. Sarbanes Maryland Teacher of the Year award is a teacher leader and exemplar. You can watch another of Clint’s performances here.