I finished this amazing book today and ordered his newest one, LIGHTING THEIR FIRES. Rafe Esquith is a force that is almost hard to believe and definitely to live up to. A multiple-award winning teacher in one of the poorest parts of LA, his simple edict, "Work hard, be nice" reverberates throughout this book.
And boy, do these students work hard, as does their determined teacher.
Their day starts at 6:30am and sometimes doesn't end until 6pm. The before and after school, lunch time work, recess practice, and Saturdays are all voluntary on the kids' part.
In their day, they not only cover the three R's, they learn to read music, perfect a Shakespearean play interspersed with rock songs that are played and sung by the students. They take field trips to places like Washington D.C., they learn and master sports like baseball and volleyball, and read books and watch their movie equivalents.
I was exhausted just reading about their busy days. This is a year-round school, Mr. Esquith does not get summers off, just a few weeks here and there.
But this is not what impressed me. It was the kindness, the goodness, the trust that has been built in Room 56. They have each other's back. The students are safe, they are cared for, and they are obviously loved.
Mr. Esquith doesn't say good-bye to his fifth graders to never see them again. He keeps in contact with them and takes them to visit colleges. And he doesn't just help them get into a college, he's given the fifth graders the tools to make sure they finish college.
Here is Room 56's website, take a look, especially the videos of the kids singing rock songs and performing Shakespeare. http://www.hobartshakespeareans.org/ There is also a documentary about Room 56 called The Hobart Shakespeareans that you can get through Netflix.
Even as overwhelming as I felt reading this book, I couldn't help but be inspired. I cried, I laughed, I gasped in sheer wonder at HOW this is all accomplished. But it makes me want to try harder because that's what teaching is all about.