Even halfway through the book, I found myself wishing I could get my daughters into a class like Room 56 at Hobart Elementary. Several chapters actually choked me up a little and seriously redoubled my motivations to make WISE a success. And the stories went on, and on, and on, and on to the point where it seemed almost impossible that so many incredibly cool things could be happening in one class under a single teacher. By the time I was finished with the quick read I realized that it is a passing rare teacher that can give so much of themselves to their students.
Esquith demonstrates an almost pathological level of commitment to his students. But a couple of other critical traits show through the anecdotes. Esquith has an innate sense of very high standards across a very broad range of disciplines, coupled with both humility and initiative that in combination are more rare than hen’s teeth. His humility reveals itself with a wry self-awareness and a willingness to critically evaluate where his skills and efforts fall short of his exceptional standards. The initiative comes into play when he realizes his failings and takes steps to find true experts and recruit them to support his cause. All of that combined with a work ethic most Protestants would find over-the-top makes for a magical classroom experience and students who regularly return after decades.
After succumbing to my recommendation, me wannabe-teacher wife’s major comment was, “I’m not sure I could give that much to my students. How would my own kids feel when so abandoned? That said, she read the book over a single night, and came away with the feeling “I would TOTALLY have LOVED that in 5th grade.” An excellent read indeed. I wonder if there is any way to get seats for the play.
From the book’s back cover:
“Rafe Esquith is my only hero.”
—Sir Ian McKellan
“Politicians, burbling over how to educate the underclass, would do well to stop by Rafe Esquith’s fifth grade class as it mounts its annual Shakespeare play. Sound like a grind? Listen to the peals of laughter bouncing off the classroom walls.”
“Esquith is a modern-day Thoreau, preaching the value of good work, honest self-reflection, and the courage to go one’s own way.”