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Do You Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire?

Based on Lee Kolbert’s recent posting of the summer reading suggestions of educators, I picked up Rafe Esquith’s book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire.  I’ve been taking a mental break lately and devoting my daily reading time to some just-for-fun fiction, but I was really ready to dive into this book about Room 56. As a processing method for me, and a way to share my thoughts and reflections, I thought I’d share some of my own thinking on his wonderful book.

Fear v. Trust:fear of the dark stuant63

How many of us use fear as a classroom management technique? I don’t know any teacher or school who hasn’t done this many times in his career. We always tell new teachers to start out tough, to show them who is boss. We offer incentives to students for doing what they are told and punishments for those who choose to go against the grain. We attempt to make children fearful so that we can control them. It’s a tough pill to swallow when we are disguising it as “order” or “discipline.” Are those terms meant to make us feel better about our own fear tactics?

Instead, Esquith says “replace fear with trust.” Our relationships with students should revolve around our trust in them and their trust in us. No meaningful learning can take place without it. We must have both positive and patient responses to our students to build relationships that are rooted in deeper soil than fear.

6 Levels of Moral Development:

Esquith relates the way that he manages his classroom, and even how he has raised his own children, to Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development. I am definitely going to be doing more research into this principle. If your students are simply acting appropriately because they don’t want to get in trouble, want a reward or want to please you, they are only in the bottom half of the moral development stages. Sadly, I believe that many classrooms (and even my own at times) are operating here. Level four of these stages involve students knowing, accepting, and following through with the rules – no matter what your rules are. While, a classroom full of students who follow rules sounds like a teacher’s dream, what are we really teaching our children? If you show respect only because it’s the rule, I don’t think you are truly a respectful person. When a student only shows gratitude in a classroom setting, but they don’t extend their graciousness outside of the school, have they learned to be thankful? Probably not. The reference to Level VI, where students have their own personal code of conduct, is certainly one that we should all aspire to teach (and parent) to. It’s actually a pretty scary concept because we are actually making ourselves vulnerable when we encourage students to take such ownership of themselves.  I really love the following quote in which he references student behavior standards, but I think it should also apply to academics. We need to raise the bar for children precisely because so many kids are behaving so badly. We cannot allow incorrigible behavior to make us lower out standards.

Reading in Room 56:

emma reading the newspaper dsevillaWhat words are fundamental in your state’s reading and literacy goals and objectives? Fluency? Comprehension? Metacognition? Wouldn’t reading improve drastically if these goals and objectives included terms like joy, passion and excitement? I love Esquith’s analogy of helping students select literature to read. He compares it to nutrition. You wouldn’t let a six year old fill his plate with only the things he wanted, you would steer him in the direction of the things that he needed. Reading is similar in many ways. We want kids to try new things. We don’t want them to give up after the first bite. We also want them to have a veritable buffet from which to choose all types of literature from every culture, continent and season.

I think I’m going to stop there for today. I have a tendancy to speed read, and I don’t want to rush through this book. I’m impressed I really am. I love reading a book by an educator whose passion for his job and his students is so infectious that exudes from the pages of a book. Tune back in for later updates to my reflections on  Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire! I would love your thoughts to this book as well!

5 Responses

  1. @ Kelly
    I enjoyed the first book about Rafe Esquith. The name of it alludes me at the moment. He is considered to be very influential in the teaching formation of the founders of the KIPP movement. My only concern with the first book is the amazing amount of time he throws into what he does. Don’t get me wrong I do believe teaching is a vocation and your best teachers are often the ones who arrive early, stay late, and work in a variety of co-curricular activities. But if you have a family where does the line have to be drawn? When does spending hour upon hour at school take away from our family obligations? I suppose there is no perfect answer.

  2. I just finished reading Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire. Rafe Esquith is definately a dedicated, passionate teacher. He does so much for his students. I found that I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted to find out what amazing things he would be doing next. I especially liked the chapter about the classroom economy. The lesson students learn about managing money is extremely valuable, especially growing up in a low-income area of L.A. He devotes so much of his own free time to his students, I found myself wondering when he spent time with his own family. I am passionate about teaching but family is very important to me, as well. Like anything else in life, there must be a balance.

  3. I’m just diving in to this book, but must say one thing is particularly concerning to me. I’m a bit put off by how much of the first 20 pages are devoted to digs at Ron Clark. I don’t know what the history is between these two, but Esquith’s disdain is obvious. Disagreement is one thing but to me some of the characterization of Clark’s Essential 55 seems misguided. At no point does Clark suggest that his rules are the only way, or even the best way to run a class. They are what worked for him to allow him to reach students. Disagree with it if you want, but I have a hard time with dragging him through the mud during a discussion of helping you students reach a level of higher moral standing.

  4. […] reading write away. I was initially impressed and even blogged on the first chapters of the book here. I was excited about what it set up to be and how it was playing out, but something changed for me […]

  5. […] Keeping Kids First (keepingkidsfirst.wordpress.com) […]

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