Rafe Esquith is a 5th grade teacher in Los Angeles, CA. He has won many extremely prestigious awards throughout his nearly quarter-century of teaching, and his recent book, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire (pictured below), talks about the “methods and madness” inside his classroom.
I chose to read this book just as summer break began, hoping for inspiration for my own classroom for next fall. I found that Esquith is extremely dedicated: he lets his students enter the classroom at 6:30 in the morning, begins an optional math team at 7:00, runs the typical school day from 8:00-3:00, leads a Shakespeare club from 3:00-4:30, and allows students to continue studying in his classroom until 6:00 or later each evening.
Amidst all of the dedication that Esquith shows for his students, however, it became clear in reading the book that his methods, although they may be effective, are not duplicable on a wide scale. First, his hours are “insane” by his own admission. Second, he also acknowledges that he has a “Messiah Complex.” He also scorns his teaching colleagues and school administrators and states that in a typical day, he talks to no other adults at his school.
The good thing about Esquith is that he cares deeply about his students. The bad thing is that his work, largely because of his own antisocial behavior, is not going to be contagious.
I think Rafe has fallen into a trap that we all would do well to avoid, where he cares only for the twenty-some kids in his class. He has lost site of one simple fact: They’re ALL our students. The best schools are the ones where the school’s most inspiring and talented teachers work collaboratively with others to help them achieve similar greatness.
Until he learns that, Mr. Esquith’s career will be defined as one of isolated greatness; he will not be the agent of change that he could have been.