The Texas Computer Educators Association’s 25th annual convention began Wednesday morning with a frenetic talk from motivational speaker Ron Clark. Clark, winner of the 2001 Disney Teacher of the Year award and many other honors, including Oprah Winfrey’s first-ever “Phenomenal Man” award, told a standing-room only auditorium in the Austin Convention Center his stories of working with problem children in North Carolina, Harlem, and around the world.

Clark, a man with a passion for travel and adventure, told educators that “his greatest adventures happened right within the four walls of the classroom.”

The speech was preceded by videotaped testimonials from students whose lives Clark had affected. Most were children with severe behavioral problems whom Clark worked with in Harlem, New York City. Some of them wept as they spoke of how Clark changed their lives. Those images were intercut between those of Clark speaking with Oprah and Rosie O’Donnell, as well as images of him dancing and jumping “double dutch” rope with his students.

A large part of Clark’s message expanded upon the rules laid down in his book, The Essential 55, a guide for students that reads like Cliff Notes for the social contract. “Kids like structure. I remember in college, people were always saying ‘never have any more than 5 rules,’–that’s such crap!”

Clark believes that children want to know how you want them to behave. “But they also want to know that you respect them,” he said.

Clark said children–especially those understood to be problem children– internalize and repeat bad behavior by being judged to be “bad kids” by both peers and adults.

“A lot of these kids don’t have a good family life at home,” Clark said while standing on top of a chair. Stepping down, he said “I try and make my classroom a family; I try and make the schools I teach in a family.”

“If you have that family reinforcement, if you know someone believes in you,” Clark said, then those people are going to believe in you, too.

Clark strongly urged the audience that demonstrating passion in teaching is the best way they can reach students. “Now, I know that most of you people won’t run around acting like me,” Clark said, seamlessly slipping into a dance move.

“This conference is about technology,” he said in his only direct mention of the TCEA conference theme. “If you teach it with passion [and with respect and consistency], then your students will eventually respond.”

Audience members certainly responded to Clark.

“I saw a lot of tears,” said Kaye Eskue, a teacher from Texas who attended the speech. “He has a lot of love for what he does. His message, I think, was that you have to incorporate that love into your teaching.”

Another attendee described Clark as “a force of nature that can’t be contained.”