|Wade King||Hope King|
Wade didn’t let a traumatic childhood define him. Instead, he has used it to inspire others.
King graduated from Anderson University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and later received a master’s degree in educational administration and leadership. He currently teaches math for grades 5 and 6, current events for grades 6 and 7, and ancient civilization for grade 8 at Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta.
To instill responsibility, King implements a “no excuses” policy. “If a student comes in and says he couldn’t get this homework done, I say, ‘If I could have done it, you can too,’” said King, referring to the abuse, neglect, and homelessness that began at birth. At age two, a grandmother took him in, but when she died a few years later, he lived with an aunt and uncle. When they split up, he stayed with his uncle, who spent his time in bars and on solo vacations, leaving his sixth-grade nephew to fend for himself. Eventually homeless, King slept in the park and on friends’ couches. Asthmatic, he resorted to stealing inhalers from a pharmacy until caught. However, the pharmacist’s kindness—he insisted on paying for whatever inhalers the boy would need—strengthened a faith that had been sorely tested.
So did high school, where King found respite in the classroom and on the wrestling team. When some teammates invited him to a Bible study, “I went and became saved. I found my ‘why,’ my purpose. I found that Jesus places people in your life to be there for you.”
His college experience was similar.
“What Anderson University poured into us, one of the foundations of the education department, is the light you can be for others,” he said. He felt that most powerfully with his wrestling coach, Dock Kelly. “One time I was struggling so bad with life in general, working all these jobs,” said King. “Dock had no clue what was going on. But I asked him, ‘Will you pray with me?’ He stopped everything he was doing and brought me to the side and prayed over me.”
His education studies helped King recognize his ability to connect with students himself. “Wade was always very friendly and very open to students to listen to them,” said Dr. Larry Knighton, an assistant professor of education at AU. “I think that’s one of the things that made him so successful. One thing we talk about in education classes is that you need to get to know your students. Many times the things they don’t tell you are as important as the things they do. Wade was very in tune to that.”
King also loves surprising students with creative lesson plans. Recently, he taught about the United Nations’ approach to communicable diseases by staging a zombie apocalypse, decorating his classroom with a tent, dry ice fog, blue and green lights, and a hazmat suit with a breathing mask—all set to music from the TV show The Walking Dead. During that lesson, hundreds of educators were visiting RCA. Working with these educators to help them become better teachers is one of his job duties that King relishes. “There’s no better stage with education at this moment than the Ron Clark Academy,” said King. “It’s a training facility and a school, and thousands of educators visit us. When you’re given a platform and are a Christian, you need to share your faith with people. I do it through example, work, and song. Being able to conduct workshops, I have found a way to explain my ‘why.’”
Hope is not the kind of teacher who gives her students worksheets. She’d rather get them moving and involved.
That kind of instructional approach—which she calls “Set the Stage to Engage”—has become part of her reputation and was the theme for the first teaching conference she co-hosted in Orlando.
Response to the sold-out conference, called “Get Your Teach On,” was so great that King and her co-host, teacher and education blogger Deanna Jump, scheduled others.
At Anderson University, where King received degrees in early childhood education and elementary education in 2007, she learned a lot about active learning. A physical education course taught her how to appeal to kinesthetic learners, a science class exposed her to the excitement of leading students through experiments, and reading and language arts courses allowed her to create notebooks full of activities she could use in her classroom.
Today, King teaches reading and science for grade 5 and reading and English language arts for grade 6 at Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta, where she is known for transforming the physical space of her classroom to immerse students into the lesson. One day, they might walk into a cave; another day, it’s a fairy tale café; yet another day, they become spies amid black lights that transform white yarn stretched across the room into lasers. “Getting students engaged is 90 percent of the battle,” she said.
King shares her creative ideas with teachers from across the country who visit RCA for training, and she also writes a blog called “Elementary Shenanigans” that has 5,000 followers. She is also active on Instagram, Facebook, and a site called Teachers Pay Teachers where she offers free as well as paid resources for other educators. The conference grew out of all these social media streams. “There’s a huge need for professional development for elementary teachers,” she said. “They have to teach so much content—as many as seven or eight areas—that it’s stressful. They have so much on their plate that sometimes they’ll do a lot of worksheets. So there’s a huge need to encourage them and to offer strategies for hands-on, interactive activities. I want to reach as many teachers as possible to affect the lives of students.”
Her demanding job at RCA and all these other pursuits—where does King get the energy? Perhaps from growing up in Anderson, South Carolina, with a very busy family. In addition to their jobs—her dad is an engineer at Michelin, her mom is a personal trainer and runs her own cleaning company—her parents coach cross country and track teams at Pendleton High School and have long led church youth programs. King grew up playing basketball and softball though running was always her first love. She ran her first race at age five and was part of a state championship cross-country team at Pendleton High when she was in eighth grade. Even now, when her busy schedule doesn’t allow her much down time, she still finds an outlet in speed.
“In my teaching, I love to be creative,” she said. “If I need an idea or can’t figure out something, I will go for a long run and will come back and have it all figured out.”