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:
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:
What 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!
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