Award-winning teacher Esquith (Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World, 2009, etc.) shares the ups and downs of his career.
The only classroom teacher to receive the National Medal of the Arts, the author has taught fifth and sixth grade for more than 25 years at Hobart Elementary, an inner-city Los Angeles school where few of the parents speak English, poverty is rampant, and too often children lack supervision at home. Many of his students become high achievers, going on to college and professional jobs, but Esquith explains that his main aim is to give the children he works with a moral foundation—“to teach kids to be honorable in a world where dishonor stares them in the face constantly.” The values he teaches are simple (self-respect, kindness, strong work ethic, etc.), and the author stresses the importance of the teacher consistently modeling these for students. Despite daily provocations—noisy, disrespectful students, interfering parents, narrow-minded school administrators—it is the teacher's responsibility to remain calm and professional, speaking quietly and injecting humor where possible. The author describes how he treats students with respect; his classroom is always immaculate and attractively decorated, and he has a mix of extra projects available as rewards for good work—e.g., creating a multicolored rug from assorted pieces of wool or engaging in a scientific experiment. Esquith also freely gives his time for extracurricular activities, including early-morning math teams, a top-notch after-school Shakespeare program and an annual visit to Washington, D.C. Children voluntarily come to class early and stay late, and the author spends 11 hours on the job.
Teaching is a tough job, but Esquith shows that its rewards can be profound.