Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56

Rafe Esquith
Viking Press
2007

Award-winning educator Rafe Esquith has long been known for teaching innovations, from his classroom economic system (in which pupils have to "rent" their desk space) to his students' universally-lauded Shakespearean productions. But as its hortatory title implies, Esquith's second book is more about how to teach than what to teach. The first two chapters lay out the foundation of Esquith's unique approach. First, every teacher should internalize four principles: replace fear with trust, be dependable, ensure that discipline is logical, and be a role model. Second, they should practice and preach the "Six Levels of Excellence," a moral system by which a personal code of conduct guides one's actions. (Esquith calls the pinnacle the "Atticus Finch" level.) Esquith recounts every experience and outlines every pedagogical technique through the prism of this two-tiered foundation; trips to Washington, D.C., choreographed rock shows, and higher-than-average SAT-9 scores all rely on this system. Pedagogy aside, Esquith's biting irreverence also makes for quite enjoyable reading. Take this observation, for instance: "The only thought-provoking element of staff meetings is guessing if the Powers That Be can possibly top the idiocy of the previous week's session." Or this: "I call these people ‘Copernicus teachers' because they substitute themselves in place of the sun as the center of the solar system." Of course, knocking administrators and bad apples is easy when you're a superstar. One hopes that Esquith's book may help more teachers achieve some independence from certain "Powers That Be," but a true teaching revolution will require more fundamental reforms, and many more Rafe Esquiths. Get your own copy of the book here.

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