Have you read Rafe Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56?
It stands as a testament that a good teacher can help kids become excellent human beings. Along the way, Rafe’s students get a true general education. They do all sorts of whiz-kid real-life mathematics; they make gorgeous art projects out of real materials; they mount a full production of a Shakespeare play and compose and perform music to go with it. They do really interesting work in science.
These are fifth graders. Rafe has taught this way for over twenty years in an inner-city LA school.
Any teacher would love to have Rafe’s academic results. However, he has achieved something far greater, in my opinion. He teaches his students how to be good human beings, with good moral judgment, kindness for others, and maturity dealing with people and situations. He takes his inner-city fifth-graders on a big trip to Washington DC once a year.
Before they go, he trains them:
- They know how to plan and pay for a route on public transportation.
- They know how to check into a motel room.
- They know how to order a meal, pay for it, eat it nicely, and tip afterward.
- They know how to plan a tour with just enough stops to internalize what they are seeing and not get too tired.
- They know how to tip hotel staff for cleaning and other services.
- They know how to call or visit Information Services in a location to get help.
- They know how to go to bed early enough for plenty of rest to enjoy the next day’s tour experiences.
- They know how to be quiet and respectful in a hotel.
- They know how to help each other and others when needed.
- They know how to count their money, give the appropriate amount, and receive correct change.
If you have ever taken a class on a field trip, you might be reading this with your jaw on the floor. Many adults can’t function this well.
What Rafe teaches me with his stories is that students can behave well. Students can embody courtesy, kindness and gentility. Rafe shows us that it can happen. I believe that teaching good behavior, detail by detail, is a big key here. I imagine that Rafe never allows even one subtle violation of his well-established code of courtesy. I also imagine that all the students help keep each other in check.
Rafe Esquith provides a wonderful personal model for this higher way of being. Although his achievements are stunning, he always responds with modesty when people compliment him. He summarizes his approach simply:
“Be nice and work hard.”