Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 – Rafe Esquith

Hobart Elementary School is located in the heart of downtown L.A., and as I look back at my elementary school years, I think about the horrible environment I grew up in. A rape or abuse case occurred at least once a week at school, and policemen were frequently seen on campus. Yet during fifth grade, when I walked into Room 56, everything changed. The world outside disappeared. Instead of gang fights and beggars, my life turned into guitar lessons, road trips, and Shakespearean characters. My fears and horrors were replaced by happiness and laughter. It became my second home, and my classmates became my second family. I did most of my growing up in Room 56, and it molded me into the person I have become. – former Room 56 student

Is Rafe Esquith the best teacher on the planet? Possibly. If not, he has to be one of the most dedicated and passionate teachers I’ve ever seen. Although, his book is geared for teachers, anyone interested in education or inspiring stories about young people will find incredible moments of joy in this book. The students in Room 56 live in Los Angeles and attend a huge elementary school where the playground looks like a prison yard. None of the students speak English as a first language and yet these fifth graders read (and understand) the following books/authors: Shakespeare, Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. The students take their work seriously, and I think seeing their teacher’s dedication helps them work harder. It’s true, I think Mr. Esquith works a little bit more than any sane person should, but the reward might be worth it. His wall is covered with pennants from the colleges that his former students attend. The life lessons that he teaches are probably more inspiring than the academic achievements of his students. Being a good person is as much a part of the curriculum as math and language arts. Rafe Esquith also leads a group of young people called the Hobart Shakespeareans who perform one of Shakespeare’s plays every year. Guests at their rehearsals have included Sir Ian Mckellan, Michael York and Hal Holbrook. The documentary The Hobart Shakespeareans is equally inspiring and I shed many happy tears while watching it. Both the book and the documentary should be required reading for new teachers.

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