ST. LOUIS — Dr. Richard Overfelt's teaching style comes from a different kind of lesson plan.
Dancing, singing, marching and the whacking of cymbals are all part of a formula he says is aimed at getting teachers to take themselves less seriously.
His students are teachers from schools all across the St. Louis area. Many arrive exhausted, perhaps drained from a long day's work instructing kids all the way up to the high school level. But Overfelt greets them with a loud and boisterous "happy day!"
On the first day of classes each semester at Truman State University, the 88-year-old lifelong educator surprises his students by coming in dressed as a clown — unusual methods for a profession now characterized by test scores and no-nonsense school administrators.
"I teach that if the heart is empty, it doesn't make any difference how full the head," said Overfelt.
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"He kept me in the profession when I was ready to get out."
Given how many demands are placed upon teachers, from school districts right down to parents, it's easy to become discouraged. But Overfelt sees it as his life's work to help teachers rediscover the joy of their craft.
"We cover teachers up today with statistics, with data, and testing almost every other day," Overfelt said. And as a result he says "there isn't enough time and energy to really teach the kids."
That's why teachers all across St. Louis have been flocking to his classes based at Rose Acres Elementary School in Chesterfield, Missouri, for years.
"He kept me in the profession when I was ready to get out," said Ken Wolfe, a middle school and high school English Language Arts teacher. "He showed me that I need to just close my door and teach and relate to the kids and meet them where they were."
Kindergarten teacher Amy Fitch studied with Overfelt several years ago and says he imparted upon her a love for singing, which she now shares with her young students as she teaches.
"They're engaged, and to the kids that may not have been as engaged it's a game to them," she said. "They're learning and they don't even realize it!"
Overfelt, who retired as a principal after many years of teaching, started out as a teacher back in the days of one room school houses in 1946 when he was just 17-years-old. The president then was Harry Truman.
"I was not prepared," he said reflecting on the newly minted teacher he was. "If a teacher doesn't know what to do, how to teach, they go back to the way there were taught and treated."
For Overfelt, it’s not just about helping teachers teach the curriculum, it's about building relationships with students that can then help them in the process of communicating hard concepts to kids.
"I want them to have fun," he said. "I want them to be able to spread the joy of learners."
Rehema Ellis joined NBC News in 1994 as a general assignment correspondent. In 2010 she was named education correspondent and was an integral part of NBC’s first annual Education Nation summit that focused on the strengths and weaknesses of America’s education system.
Her reports appear on "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," and MSNBC. Ellis was part of the NBC Emmy award-winning coverage of the plane crash in the Hudson River called, Miracle on the Hudson. She also won an Emmy for her reporting on the 2008 Presidential Election of Barack Obama and his historic inauguration.
Ellis has been part of other headliner stories including the attacks on the World Trade Center. She was the first person to identify the attack on the air as “Nine-Eleven." She’s reported on Hurricane Katrina, the death of Michael of Jackson and the Haiti earthquake.
As a correspondent for NBC, Ellis traveled to Zaire to report on the mass killings that left an estimated one million people dead in Rwanda. A few years later she spent a month in Greece covering the summer Olympics.
Ellis began her broadcast career at KDKA Radio and TV in Pittsburgh. Later, she worked in Boston at WHDH-TV as a reporter and weekend anchor.
She has distinguished herself as a lead correspondent and received numerous awards including local and national Emmys, Edward R. Murrow Awards, Associated Press awards and awards from the National Association of Black Journalists. She's also a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Journalism.
Born in North Carolina, and raised in Boston, she graduated from Simmons College in Boston and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
Ellis currently lives in New York City with her young son.