Thursday, May 31, 2007

Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire, by Rafe Esquith


I finished my first challenge read--Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith, for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. It is the story of an extraordinary teacher who has been teaching fifth grade at a public school in a poverty-stricken and violent Los Angeles neighborhood for the last twenty-two years, and he has created an oasis in his classroom. By challenging his kids to follow a personal code of behavior, he gets them to behave and to learn without "ruling with an iron fist".

I probably have more reason to be interested in this book than most people, because my oldest child is exactly the age of the kids that Rafe Esquith teaches. And Esquith's suggestions are great--he inspired me to introduce my child to Shakespeare, and he has many great suggestions for books, movies, music, plays, and math and science projects that I think will inspire all my (three) children.

I would have to agree with one reviewer who called Esquith's tone "arrogant", but at the same time, he tells many humble and self-deprecating stories about the mistakes he's made as a teacher over the years. It's an interesting combination. Maybe there is something approaching arrogance in the way he seems so sure about things--he is very confident in his assessments of the terrible state of many public schools today, and of the pitfalls many teachers can't seem to avoid. But I found, ultimately, that his voice didn't turn me off to his message.

I will also say that this book gave me many, many ideas about encouraging and supporting my kids' education, but it also made me feel inadequate as a parent at the same time. This guy has so many great ideas, I don't know how I would fit them all into my kids' lives. But the book did inspire me to try.

I am also interested in hearing what teachers think of this book. I think teachers would be more qualified than I am to judge it, and I'd be curious to hear what they think.

12 comments:

Dewey said...

This is so strange, but I just today read a review of this book in Teacher magazine (they hated it -- the arrogance thing) and then this evening I've seen TWO blog posts on it. I'm adding it to my bookmooch wishlist, because I read all the teaching books I come across, but who knows how long it'll take to get it!

Dewey said...

Oh, oops, ha ha, I guess that other blog post was your earlier one! Sorry about that... still on post-surgery drugs, making me dumb!

Gentle Reader said...

dewey--I would probably make the same mistake, without the drugs :) But I believe Joy at Thoughts of Joy reviewed this book, too--so does that count as two bloggers posting on it? I didn't hate the book, but it did make me feel lazy and inadequate as a mother shepherding my children through the educational system!

Dewey said...

Oh, maybe that's it, thanks! I might have seen three posts, then. :)

Yeah, I'd like more books that help parents feel empowered to guide their kids' education, rather than inadequate.

Gentle Reader said...

dewey--I'll take anything that makes me feel less inadequate :)

Camille said...

I'm really excited to read this now. I'm a SAHM but I was an elementary teacher before and I love books like this. And also, my older child will be starting school in 2 years so I'll be a parent of a public school student soon.

Gentle Reader said...

camille--if you read it you'll have to let me know what you think. I'm really curious to know what teachers think about the book--whether his attitude is off-putting or not, for example.

Joy said...

Hi! I'm a teacher and I highly recommend 7 Keys to Comprehension by Susan Zimmermann. At first glance it may appear too simple or they (the children) already know how to read, so it's not necessary, but it really is an excellent book for all readers.

a.book.in.the.life said...

Hey just been going back through your blog and found this post. this looks a good book, I am off to see if I can get it here in the UK- it sounds a great read!

Gentle Reader said...

joy--thanks for the recommendation, I'll get it!

a.book--nice to see you again! It is an interesting read, though be warned that the writer's attitude was off-putting to some!

Anonymous said...

I just finsihed reading this book. As a Grad student, pursuing my degree in Elementary Ed. already with a BA. in education I found this book extremely enlightening and a great resource to look at for ideas. However, it almost made me feel like I was not going to be that great of a teacher if I didnt put in all the time that he did and still does. He almost makes you feel that if you are a teacher, that is and should be your only duty in life-forget about everything else! I just tried to ignore that and take it as advice. Take it or leave it.

Maggie said...

I know I'm way late coming to this post. I just finished the book yesterday.

I found him very unforgiving of others who do not teach like him. It's his way or nothing! What a load of crap!

Teachers need the flexability of different styles of teaching because their students have different styles of learning.

I did like his ideas, though. So, I suggest readers skip to the chapters where inspiration can be found.