Teach like your Hair is on Fire, Rafe Esquith

Warning: TEACHER RELATED POST, A LOT OF GUSHING, and LONG-WINDED INTRODUCTION.

Please note, I added a photo of the book, horrah! May go back to fix this issue on other entries.

Anyway, I feel like a bad blogger. Let’s be honest, while I was unemployed it was way easier to read a book or more a day. But I, like everyone  else (I think), go through recreational phases.  I mentioned a crochet project the last time I blogged, and that’s been my stress release for the past few weeks.  I’ll crochet for a few weeks, get tired and read a ton, and the cycle continues.  I am working on a vampire post for next week, so stay tuned, but in the meantime… you get me blabbing.

If I haven’t mentioned my work situation, I sub in 2 school systems  and at a children’s museum. I  enjoy the variety and flexibility it provides me. When I can work, I take the opportunity, period. (Unemployed for a year while student teaching. You do what you can.)  I had a half day job this week, and they were having their book fair. I squealed when I saw a book by Rafe Esquith, who I mentioned briefly in the last post (documentary Hobart Shakespeareans).

I realize that a handful of teachers get a lot of press, and very few of them are your average Joe, rather your inspirational, inner-city school teachers (Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, etc).  Sometimes, these inspirational stories simply make you feel inadequate because you’re not changing the world at 100 kids at a time.  This book was about his “methods and madness.”

I read while the kids were doing math with another teacher. I snuck it into work the next day and hid it whenever a supervisor came around. I finished it today while subbing.

Bookworm’s Commentary

I love to work with kids, big or small, but it is so easy to be discouraged. I’ve had pleasant mentor teachers, one of whom has been my rock throughout this last year. I’ve had one teacher that was negative, and I cringed every time I heard the talk about why the kids weren’t getting homework done, etc.  (I literally went to my “rock” mentor  every morning to steel myself up for the day. I made “Defying Gravity” my theme song: “You won’t bring me down.”) Teachers have a lot more going against them than for them.

Rafe is no  stranger to discouragement, but he insists that there’s more. In his school, most kids are ESL, poor, deal with hard home lives. The neighborhood is violent, and his classroom has been broken into and vandalized.

BUT. He manages to turn these underprivileged kids into extraordinary citizens that many (probably me included, to my chagrin) would turn their back on.  His classroom is based on trust and respect. He teaches them that there are no shortcuts.  He gives them hope for a better life, but he shows them that it’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice.  He takes them to nice hotels, college tours, and generally shows them a life the kids can work towards.  He expects them to, as Atticus Fitch says, to “walk a mile in the other man’s skin” and live by a high code of conduct. (Example: Rafe’s proudest moment of one class was when a garbage truck turned over, and the class helped clean and get the driver back in his truck. I’ve worked with some great kids, but that level of consideration?… Wow.)

His class schedule and agenda are action-packed. He teaches them everything from grammar, guitar, and baseball. He puts on a Shakespeare play every year with willing volunteers (meeting after-school). He has a film club, and the students grow to appreciate the finer films (vs. Jason vs. Freddy, because what fifth grader needs to see that crap?). (Also, “finer films” include A Hard Days’ Night, which makes my heart sing, and Wizard of Oz, since most of his students HAVE NEVER SEEN IT.  You can see why he feels the need show good films.)

One of my beloved profs told us that we needed to express to our students, “You can do this. I believe in you. I will never give up on you.” And Rafe lives this and goes beyond.

There are many sacrifices made to be this hard-core; Rafe works many 12 hour days. The kids make sacrifices to help them exceed their wildest expectations. Did I mention these are fifth grade ESL students performing Shakespeare, learning guitar, and reading To Kill a Mockingbird? I taught in fifth; frankly, we were excited when they remembered their pencils.

Class Stuff

I’m inspired by this book. He gave a lot of great resources, and I loved his ideas, which you’ll have to read for yourself to glean what’ll work for you. He taught them the important things in life– caring for each other and the world– and the test scores fell into place. In a world where we’re obsessed with test scores that tell us nothing, this “modern day Thoreau” teaches that no matter what your humble background, if you work hard and care about others, your life –and world–will be better. The American Dream is in reach, but it won’t be handed to you.

Most teachers want to go into the field to change the lives of the youth, only to be beaten down by the pressures and idiots from bureaucracy that expect us to perform miracles and don’t hold everyone involved accountable.  I’m still at the optimistic point– after all I JUST got my official teaching license in the mail (go me!).  Nonetheless, I find comfort and inspiration in Rafe.  He’s nowhere near perfect, and he probably would despise these commentaries about how awesome he seems to teachers on the outside.  He defies gravity, and more importantly, because he “defies gravity,” his kids soar.

So, if you need a boost in your teaching, read this. It’ll be good for the spirit.

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2 Comments

Filed under Just for fun, Just gushing!, Teacher stuff

2 responses to “Teach like your Hair is on Fire, Rafe Esquith

  1. Pingback: The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller for real | Class Bookworm

  2. Pingback: Eleven Birthdays, Wendy Mass | Class Bookworm

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