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EDUCATING ESMê by Esmé Raji Codell


Diary of a Teacher's First Year

by Esmé Raji Codell

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1999
ISBN: 1-56512-225-9
Publisher: Algonquin

A spirited account of a gifted teacher’s first year in an inner-city fifth-grade classroom. Codell seems to be that exceptional teacher who tirelessly devises new ways of engaging with her 31 students’she’s determined to educate them and enrich their lives. At 24, Codell shows the bravado of youth, along with the savoir-faire of a far more experienced teacher. Hired after a perfunctory interview with a sexist, parochial, ineffectual principal of a Chicago elementary school, she has to throw too much of her energy into defending her modus operandi, which should evoke praise, not criticism. Particularly perturbing to her principal is her insistence that her students address her as Ms. EsmÇ. “It’s against board policy,” he constantly reminds her, with threats to cite her for insubordination. Able to ignore most of the bureaucratic pettiness that permeates the daily doings, EsmÇ organizes a schoolwide Fairy Tale Festival (replete with a Fairy Tale Fashion Show, carnival games, and bake sale); sets up a classroom library with sets of books that she herself purchases; publishes a lively class newsletter; and gains the respect of just about all the students and their parents. There seem to be no boundaries to Codell’s innovative measures. To teach her students how to multiply double digits, she puts on “Mu-Cha-Cha” from Bells Are Ringing and dances along with her class, making her feet do the math. When a particularly obstreperous child makes her days exceedingly difficult, she changes places with him, inviting him to play the teacher and herself to play the confrontational student. (He never again presents a problem.) When a student is endangered by domestic violence, Madame EsmÇ opens her home to him and his sister for the night, without, of course, notifying the administration. Educating EsmÇ is that exceptional education book about an even more exceptional teacher. It deserves to be read by anyone who cares about children. (Author tour)