Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire Book Review
38 Book Challenge, Book Recommendations, Teaching

Book #3: Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire

Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire Book Review

Title: Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire (aff link)
Author: Rafe Esquith
# of Pages: 240ish

Last year, Matt and I checked out the Scholastic Book Fair mega-sale on USU’s campus, where we ended up spending about $180 on two dozen books that would have cost us $500 anywhere else. This book by Rafe Esquith was a spur-of-the-moment purchase that I added to my stack just before check-out because I thought it might come in handy when I became a real teacher.

Well, my bookish instinct was right. Mostly.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire is the true story of how Rafe Esquith, a 5th-grade teacher at an inner-city elementary school, has accomplished phenomenal things with his ten-year-old students such as full-blown Shakespeare plays, cross country trips, a School of Rock-worthy class rock band, etc. Rafe is the kind of teacher that movies are made about–devoted, self-sacrificing, and possibly a little bit obsessed, or crazy (or both). In this book, he shares some of the unusual methods he has used in his classroom to achieve extraordinary results.

I am now about halfway through my student teaching experience, which, although rewarding, is often stressful, frustrating, and thankless. I picked up this book with the hope that it might re-inspire me to continue forward and try new things and do more for my students.

I’m kind of torn with how this book made me feel, though. There were times while I was reading it that I had true ah-ha! moments—like when Rafe talks about how he teaches his kids Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Reasoning. Since I have often lamented the complete lack of morality or empathy shown by many of my students, this book gave me the idea that I could incorporate the 6 Levels into the literature unit we’re starting next week, which would not only help the students understand the literature better, but also themselves. So I was excited about that.

However, hearing about how this teacher starts teaching his students special classes at 6:30 AM (for those who want to come that early) and doesn’t go home until 6:30 or 7 at night (because he’s helping the kids put on a full-length Shakespeare play and teaching them rock music), I kind of got discouraged. I mean, I’m all for the idea of planning meaningful experiences for your kids and going the extra mile to help them reach high goals. But a 12-hour day at school wouldn’t work for most people. I don’t even know how it works for him, considering that he’s got his own wife at home. So I guess I kind of came away feeling guilty—guilty that I couldn’t put in the kind of effort that he does and guilty that I don’t really care to. But I know that the students are actually NOT my number-one priority–my family is. I think there’s a fine line between being the best you can be at your job and letting it take over your life. And besides, while many of his ideas would work brilliantly for an elementary-school setting, where you only have 25 students all day long and where the kids are still at an age where they want nothing more than to please you and do the right thing, I just don’t think his ideas would work very well in a middle school setting, where I have 110 students for 50-minute spurts, and who are just trying to navigate their way through adolescence, much less change the world.

But the book was inspiring, and it let me know that I DO need to have higher expectations for my students (despite the challenges of their age group), and that I DO need to constantly be seeking for ways to truly inspire them to become more than they think they can be. I am just not willing to sacrifice everything else in my life to meet those two objectives.

And I’m okay with that.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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