Fire in the Classroom: Teaching Advice

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Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire It is a strange feeling to write this book. I am painfully aware that I am not superhuman. I do the same job as thousands of other dedicated teachers who try to make a difference. Like all real teachers, I fail constantly. I don't get enough sleep. I lie awake in the early morning hours, agonizing over a kid I was unable to reach. Being a teacher can be painful.

For almost a quarter of a century, I have spent the majority of my time in a tiny, leaky classroom in central Los Angeles. Because of a little talent and a lot of luck, I have been fortunate to receive some recognition for my work. Not a day goes by when I do not feel overwhelmed by the attention.

I doubt that any book can truly capture the Hobart Shakespeareans. However, it is certainly possible to share some of the things I've learned over the years that have helped me grow as a teacher, parent, and person. For almost twelve hours a day, six days a week, forty-eight weeks a year, my fifth-graders and I are crowded into our woefully insufficient space, immersed in a world of Shakespeare, algebra, and rock 'n' roll. For the rest of the year, the kids and I are on the road. While my wife believes me to be eccentric, good friends of mine have not been so gentle, going as far as to label me quixotic at best and certifiable at worst.

I don't claim to have all the answers; at times it doesn't feel as if I'm reaching as many students as I succeed with. I'm here only to share some of the ideas I have found useful. Some of them are just plain common sense, and others touch on insanity. But there is a method to this madness. It is my hope that some parents and teachers out there will agree with me that our culture is a disaster. In a world that considers athletes and pop stars more important than research scientists and firefighters, it has become practically impossible to develop kind and brilliant individuals. And yet we've created a different world in Room 56. It's a world where character matters, hard work is respected, humility is valued, and support for one another is unconditional. Perhaps when parents and teachers see this, and realize that my students and I are nothing special, they will get a few ideas and take heart.

I am sad when I see so many good teachers and parents surrender to forces that sap their potential excellence. The demons are everywhere. Those who care deeply often feel outgunned by apathetic or incompetent administrators and politicians. Expectations for children are often ridiculously low. Racism, poverty, and ignorance often reign supreme on campus. Add to this mix ungrateful students, and even mean-spirited people in the teaching profession itself, and the hardiest of souls can be crushed. Each defeat usually means that a child's true potential will not be developed.

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Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith. Copyright © Rafe Esquith, 2007.

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