Two amazing books that are a must read both for parents and teachers, and really anyone who works with children are Rafe Esquith’s, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire and Lighting Their Fires. This is the teacher you want for your kids. This is the teacher you want mentoring/teaching the youth of the future. This is the teacher you want to become a school principal. This is the teacher you want to see in a university as a professor mentoring/teaching in education.
Esquith’s focus is providing a ‘haven’ for his students in grade 5. He teaches at Hobart Elementary in a rough section of Los Angeles in a school that runs year round. It has a fence around it to protect the youth within and keep the rough elements out. Most students are immigrants, English is their second language and they are in the lower socio-economic bracket.
He believes in teaching by example and has learned from his mistakes, readily depicting this in both books. This is a teacher that opens his classroom doors an hour before school normally starts, holds after school sessions and offers voluntary weekend sessions for his current and former students. He teaches all the basics and then goes beyond to include music, theatre, organizational and time management, and life skills of budgeting. Outings in the community occur along with former students coming to mentor his current ones. Yearly trips occur to historical sites, museums, baseball games and he accompanies some students to canvas future colleges. Students have to work hard in the classroom to go on these trips; they are not simply handed out. Many hours are spent in preparation.
Imagine if you had a teacher like this in school. Can you see yourself wanting to stay after school to learn more, to attend a weekend session voluntarily? I can.
This teacher in a sense is also a social worker without the title. There is an emphasis on use of self, compassion, empathy, wanting to make a difference, to rise to the challenge of teaching, but in a way that works for each student, as no two are the same. He instills a joy of reading, playing the guitar, daily physical exercise; quality over quantity. He does not like standardized tests or curriculum that promotes teaching every student the same way.
One of my favorite quote’s from Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, “Our goal is to help each student become as special as she/he can be as an individual-not to be more special than the kid sitting next to him/her.”
He asks his students why and why not? He believes in character, honesty, morality and generosity of spirit, along with teamwork, collaboration, listening skills and compromise-all necessary and needed life skills/characteristics.
Those that have children in school will learn something from reading both of these books. It will make one question the school their kid(s) currently attend. Parents may become more involved and question the curriculum currently in place. Education is harder today-school budgets are reduced each year and schools make do with less. Many parents pay for the extra’s like music, art, lunch monitors; purchase items for the classroom and assist with fundraising activities along with volunteering in order for their child(ren) to have library time, hot lunches brought in, to go on outings in the community and have extra help in the classroom environment. For those that can volunteer, it is a great way to know what really goes on in the classroom and in the school environment. Trips, extra supplies, books, science equipment, paper products, markers and more cost money and for some families it can be expensive.
Our educational institutions need an overhaul and more money needs to be earmarked for public schools. Schools are where many youth spend between 6-8 hours a day. Let the time be well spent, where at the end of the day they come out having learned something new.
By Victoria Brewster, MSW