The best classroom teacher in America is Rafe Esquith, who teaches fifth grade to immigrant students in Los Angeles, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.
Esquith is most famous for organizing the Hobart Shakespeareans, a troupe of fifth graders who perform the works of the Bard all over the country, and sometimes abroad. . . . His fifth graders rehearsed Shakespeare on a Esquith designed stage, practiced the musical accompaniment, read and discussed parts of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and played a game called Buzz that Esquith describes in the book. The class counted to 100, with Esquith pointing to students in turn. If the next number was a prime number, the student had to say “buzz” instead.
. . . He runs the Young Authors project, in which each student over the course of a year writes a book. He instructs on the world of money by having his students run an entire economic system in the class, with paychecks, rents and too many other complications to mention.
Esquith, author of There Are No Shortcuts, has a new book, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire! It recounts Esquith’s battles with bureaucrats who wanted him to stop teaching Steinbeck books to fifth graders (too hard) and tried to give his classroom to another teacher.
Teacher Magazine complains about Esquith’s “self-congratulatory tone.”
Perhaps even more irritating is his habit of putting down other teachers as â€œapathetic or incompetent or both.â€ On pages where he isnâ€™t busy promoting himself, he is usually busy criticizing his colleagues for not being him.
Esquith takes credit for the students from Room 56 who have gone on to attend the University of California at Berkeley, Northwestern, and Notre Dame, as if he were the only one who ever taught them. He doesnâ€™t seem to recognize the extent to which teaching is a collaborative art.
Esquith definitely is a diva who promotes a 12-hour-a-day, bankrupt-yourself, crazy-genius style of teaching that’s not realistic for most teachers — including most smart, competent, idealistic teachers.
In a New York Times op-ed, Bronx history teacher Tom Moore complains about the movie Myth of the Great Teacher.
Films like â€œFreedom Writersâ€ portray teachers more as missionaries than professionals, eager to give up their lives and comfort for the benefit of others, without need of compensation. Ms. Gruwell sacrifices money, time and even her marriage for her job.
Her behavior is not represented as obsessive or self-destructive, but driven â€” necessary, even.
Yet once a hero teacher inspires students, they turn instantly into high achievers.
This trivializes not only the difficulties many real students must overcome, but also the hard-earned skill and tireless effort real teachers must use to help those students succeed.
Esquith may be a hero, but he understands that it takes long, hard work teaching to help his students catch up and move ahead.