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Bring your dancing shoes.

Perri Ormont Blumberg
October 6, 2017

Everybody has one teacher (or a handful) that they can recall fondly for brightening his or her day. For teachers and students alike, Dr. Richard Overfelt has done that thousands of times over.

The 88-year-old Missouri teacher has devoted his life to education, and bringing a renaissance of fun to the classroom. “Teachers today are taking themselves way too seriously...Schools today are trying not [to fail], rather than succeed,” says Overfelt in his kind, smooth drawl. “There isn’t anything [teachers] can’t do for kids.”

Overfelt started teaching more than 70 years ago and firmly subscribes to the philosophy that a teacher’s emotions and attitude transfers over to the kids. He feels that if a teacher is uptight and stressed, so too will that negative energy transfer to the students.

The remedy? Embrace silliness. Oftentimes, in the pressure of the school system, educators forget the power of letting go and being goofy for a bit. Now, in his graduate classroom in Kirksville, Missouri’s Truman State University, he puts what he preaches into action. Kicking off the first day of class in a clown costume, Overfelt has his graduate students dancing, singing, and London Bridging the semester away.

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The inspiring lessons he weaves in throughout are not lost on his adult students. Teachers learn the value of little things, like handwritten “happy notes” to send to their kids, or the pure joy of jumping on your chair during a math lesson. Some teachers have even credited Overfelt with saving their love of educating and from leaving the profession all together.

For Overfelt, any teacher is a Hokey Pokey away from putting his lessons into action. “It’s really not that complicated. It’s about people. It’s about relationships.”

Watch his interview with NBC Nightly News below.