Rafe Esquith is an inspirational 5th grade teacher who has been given numerous awards for his work in a public school in Los Angeles. He recently spoke to Michelle Norris on “All Things Considered” (read and hear more) about his unusual teaching methods – including that his kids have to rent or buy their desks in the classroom. (The seats in the front of the classroom are better real estate). He wants his kids to take ownership of their classroom and learn real-life skills. He describes his new book, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire as a “cookbook for teaching in an urban classroom” The title of the book comes from an incident that occurred while he was helping a student in class with a chemistry experiment.
In trying to get her alcohol burner to light, I set my hair on fire and didn’t even know it until the kids started screaming. But as ridiculous as that was, I actually thought, if I could care so much I didn’t even know my hair was on fire, I was moving in the right direction as a teacher – when I realized that you have to ignore all the crap, and the children are the only thing that matter. – Rafe Esquith on All Things Considered
I don’t claim to have all the answers; at times it doesn’t feel as if I’m reaching as many students as I succeed with. I’m here only to share some of the ideas I have found useful. Some of them are just plain common sense, and others touch on insanity. But there is a method to this madness. It is my hope that some parents and teachers out there will agree with me that our culture is a disaster. In a world that considers athletes and pop stars more important than research scientists and firefighters, it has become practically impossible to develop kind and brilliant individuals. And yet we’ve created a different world in Room 56. It’s a world where character matters, hard work is respected, humility is valued, and support for one another is unconditional. Perhaps when parents and teachers see this, and realize that my students and I are nothing special, they will get a few ideas and take heart. – Rafe Esquith from Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56
Let’s hope for more teachers like Rafe Esquith in our school system, and remember to say thanks to the teachers who are inspiring our kids.