Doug Clark: Linchpin

“My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky…”

Doug Clark, College Prep English teacher at Olathe North High School in the fall of 1987, burst into our classroom on the first day of my senior year and enthusiastically uttered those words, along with the rest of William Wordsworth’s poem.

“So was it when my life began, so is it now I am a man.”

We were all mesmerized as he made several of us, who did not previously care for poetry prior to that day, care about poetry. His captivating style made it immediately desirable to memorize a poem we had just heard for the first time ever. Countless more poems and sonnets would be permanently etched in our memories before May came.

Mr. Clark was a linchpin, to use Seth Godin’s term (PDF). His brand — how he left us thinking about the class experience and the material we learned from him — was unlike any other teacher’s at that school.

Others might have felt standard operating procedure called for welcoming the class, taking roll, and sharing the syllabus before maybe cracking open the textbook we’d be using, giving a little background on the poet, introducing the era in which this poem was written, then finally dissecting the lines on the page. Mr. Clark went in the exact opposite direction.

He dove in head-first, reciting those words with a zeal that grabbed our attention. It was a brilliant way to seize momentum within seconds of the new class beginning. It was totally unexpected, but totally respected — even admired.

“So be it when I shall grow old or let me die.”

I’m not a teacher. But I often think about how Mr. Clark took charge of that class in an inspiring way and what I can learn from that. He made our class instantly care about new material we may not have been otherwise quick to care about. He did this by presenting it in a non-traditional, engaging, human way.

“The child is the father of the man.”

I also think about how any of us in our chosen professions could do the same, if only we cared a little more.

We could create some pretty outstanding customer experiences if we thought enough to. We could re-position entire companies, re-energize employees, sell our products and services in a whole new way, break down departmental silos, unwind longstanding and unnecessary policies. Any number of things.

Do you get in the way sometimes, or even often? If so, will you stop?

It could make all the difference.

“And I could wish my days to be bound each to each by natural piety.”

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