When the summer began, Lee Kolbert made a call for recommended summer reading for educators by educators. One of the first titles that streamed across my PLN was Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith. I picked up the book at a local bookstore and started 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 as I continued to read.
I have struggled over the blog post because there are lots of things I want to say about my reactions to the book, but I do not want to undermine what Esquith does with his students. I think the dedication he displays to the children in his room is remarkable and admirable, and his students are very lucky to have a teacher who is devoted to help them develop as learners and leaders. Esquith offers great ideas for engaging students in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and the arts. He even talks about teaching students about testing as a process, rather than a stressor. That being said, there were several moments in the book that I found myself questioning what was going on – the how’s of it all.
How does Esquith get students to arrive at school at 7:00 AM and stay until hours past the official end of the day?
How do students get to school and get home?
How do his students feel who don’t want to or can’t participate in all of these extra events?
How do the students in other classes feel who aren’t having these experiences?
How do his students react to their teachers when they leave him and move on to other grades?
How do the students balance their lives outside of school?
How does Esquith balance his life outside of school?
Throughout his book, I wondered how he had the time. I worried about new teachers or those getting ready to enter the teaching profession might feel when reading this book. I give a lot of myself to teaching and to my students, but even I was overwhelmed. If you are not putting on plays, teaching how to play musical instruments, teaching from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm, driving kids on cross-country college tours, facilitating home-based film clubs and organizing tours of the nation’s capital, you are still an amazing teacher. As this post evolves in my own head and on the screen, I am finally figuring out how I can love this book and dislike it at the same time. Only a small percentage of us can do what Rafe Esquith does. I am not one of them, but what can I do?
- I can know what my students need. Esquith recognizes that his students may not ever get the opportunity to “know what they don’t know.” We, as teachers, have the unique chance to open our students’ eyes to a world they may not know exists beyond their neighborhood. While I may not be able to make a cross-country trip with them, I can emerge them in great literature, take them on virtual trips, and connect them with others world-wide through technology.
- I can find a way. Esquith set up his Hobart Shakepearans as a non-profit organizations to raise money for their expenses and trips. If he can do this, I can certainly fill out the occasional grant application to offer a new experience to my students. I can encourage parents and community members to put their monies where their mouths are. I can communicate regularly with my elected officials to keep funding and adding more funding to public education.
- I can encourage service-learning. In Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire Esquith highlights his students’ holiday meal service. Even if this is too much of an undertaking initially, take from it the idea that you are providing a priceless lesson for your students by teaching them the value of service. The experience of service-learning cannot be written in a lesson plan or numerated through goals and objectives. It touches the heart, and lessons that do that will last much longer than any science lab you will ever do. Collect cans for a food drive. Sing holiday carols at a nursing home. Write letters to troops serving overseas. Find a way to make students dig deep into their hearts, not just their parents’ wallets.
- I can let students have it. It may be your classroom. It may be your materials. But it is their learning. Allowing students to own their work and to share it with others in their classroom, school and community will instill in them pride for learning. They will learn discipline and hard work. They will learn problem solving conflict resolution. If you you hold so tightly to the control of your classroom, everything you try to accomplish will stay within your walls. If you let your students have it, they can take it with them.
So, no, I don’t teach like my hair is on fire. I don’t really think that Rafe Esquith does either. He teaches like his heart is on fire, and that’s the greatest thing a teacher can offer his/her students. And when you are reading about astounding things that others are doing, don’t get overwhelmed by the how’s. Focus on the why’s. When you do that, you will find inspiration to light the fires of your students.
Photo from Flickr: Balancing Act by SashaW