Esquith: Education can't be 'made easy'

Teacher Rafe Esquith has a new book, Lighting Their Fires. He tells Teacher Magazine that education takes time.

To be good at anything — anything! — takes thousands and thousands of hours of patient study, and I want people to know that when kids make mistakes or have setbacks, we don’t need to jump all over them for every little thing. This is a long process.

As a young teacher, he was impatient, Esquith says.

You come in with your lesson plan and you have everything set and then some kid jumps up and tells you to go [expletive] yourself, some other kids start fighting, and an administrator comes in the room and yells at you — all your plans go out the window. It’s happened to me. And you become so frustrated. But that doesn’t make you a bad teacher. Teachers and parents need to understand that this isn’t a Hollywood movie where the teacher just walks in and saves everyone. It’s a really hard job and we’ve gotta keep at it.

Esquith’s book, subtitled “Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World,” is aimed at parents as much as teachers.

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  1. If you search “nice white lady” on Youtube there’s a hilarious parody of the “Freedom Writers” mentality- that anyone can march into a classroom and a inspire students to be the next president via fantastic lesson plans and being nice.

  2. South Park did a nice one too. I think it was called Cheat Like A White Man

  3. Robert Wright says:

    I read Esquith and it was very disappointing.

  4. How did Esquith disappoint you, Robert? I’m interested in your opinion as a veteran teacher.

  5. I found Esquith’s first book very disappointing. It struck me as little more than a brag sheet. His second book was much better and actually gave some useful advice to teachers. Both books are marred by his extremely negative attitudes toward other teachers and administrators, and his endless boasting. You might compare his books to the ones written by Ron Clark. Ron Clark is clearly proud of his successes as a teacher, but he is willing to share the glory and mentions his admiration for many of the teachers that he has worked with over the years. Rafe Esquith really is one of the finest teachers in America, but that never seems to be enough for him. In the PBS documentary about his class, Rafe boasts about the classroom economy he “invented” in which students must rent their desks using money that they earned by doing various class jobs. It’s a clever idea, and it was a clever idea thirty years ago when my mentor teacher was using it in her classroom, mentioning that she had read about it in a teacher’s magazine. The same documentary, shows Esquith giving Christmas gifts to his students while he turns to the camera and solemnly declares that this may be the only Christmas gift that some of these children receive. It’s a touching moment. But why can’t he bring himself to point out that it is very common for teachers to use their own money to buy Christmas gifts for their students? I admire Rafe Esquith, and I intend to read his next book, but his complete lack of humility can be hard to take.

  6. Robert Wright says:


    The short answer is, he’s simplistic and emotional. His anecdotes are cute but simply illustrate bromides. Good for talk shows.

    He subscribes to the belief that good teachers sacrifice their lunch time for students.

    Being generous and sacrificial are admirable traits, but there’s more to good teaching than that.

    He has no depth, no insight.

    Other teachers who have written about teaching have a lot to offer-and can engage one’s brain.

    Jaime Escalante’s essays on “ganas” and education are great. Louanne Johnson is worth reading. Erin Gruwell, though she has a bit of an ego problem, is worth reading.

    Esquith, by comparison, is pretty lame. He loves his students and they love him. Well, that’s really nice, but so is cotton candy.


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