I picked up Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith about his years of teaching in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood because I am always intrigued by stories about teachers who are able to have success in schools where the odds are against them.
Some of my favorite movies have a similar storyline.
Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Coach Carter and Freedom Writers come to mind.
Even though I am not a teacher, I enjoyed reading this immensely practical book about how to transform a classroom controlled by fear into a haven of trust. The principles that Rafe Esquith is using in Room 56 would translate into a positive environment in any program for kids. Or even into a home. Even my home.
He unpacks this idea of building into students a desire to do something greater than just Follow The Rules. He calls it looking for the Atticus Finch Level. Brilliant.
This goal for his students is also referred to as: I Have A Personal Code of Behavior and I Follow It. This is what we want in so many places, but we settle for the minimal results we get with fear tactics.
There is enough material in this book’s 200 pages to keep any teacher, volunteer or parent busy for years and yet for me, the best part of the book is getting to see a glimpse of Esquith’s dedication to his students. It is overwhelming. I would have quit a long time ago if I had faced even a fraction of the same difficulties he’s seen.
The demons are everywhere. Those who care deeply often feel outgunned by apathetic or incompetent administrators and politicians. Expectations for children are often ridiculously low. Racism, poverty, and ignorance often reign supreme on campus. Add to this mix ungrateful students, and even mean-spirited people in the teaching profession itself and the hardiest of souls can be crushed.
This inspiring book is about one teacher who has created a safe space that effectively blocks out all these obstacles. At least for a year.