Last night, I went to see Rafe Esquith. What a treat. For those of you who don't know, Rafe Esquith is probably the most famous teacher of 5th grade in the world. He's been teaching some of the nation's poorest students for the past 25 years. How do I know they're poor? Every single student in the school is eligible for free breakfast and lunch. The students start out with many strikes against them: most of them don't speak English as their first language, and many of them have challenging home lives--and they experience a variety of challenging home lives, which makes it tough for the school.
Rafe Esquith travels with some of the children, and they performed for us. They did a program which combined speeches from a variety of Shakespeare's plays and rock and pop music--which they sang and played on the guitar and harmonica.
It's the kind of night that makes me feel like I've wasted my whole life, although I teach too, and when I taught English at a community college in South Carolina, I taught students coming out of some of the worst public schools in America (some years it was South Carolina, some years Mississippi).
It's the kind of night that made me think, Hey, I could teach 5th grade! In fact, watching those 5th graders last night, it seems like just the right job for someone with a Liberal Arts background: music, drama, Shakespeare--we can do it all!
Of course, watching Rafe Esquith, I firmly reminded myself that he makes it look easy, but he glosses over difficult stuff. Well, he doesn't gloss it over, but he doesn't dwell on it. He talks about the stupidity of standardized tests, but he cheerfully talks about ignoring them until test day arrives.
Sure, he can do that. He's Rafe Esquith. He can do whatever he likes. As a new elementary school teacher, if I could get a job (and that's a big IF in our county), I'd be subject to all kinds of lunacy.
I also felt uneasy watching him and realizing that I'm less a teacher these days, more of an administrator. I tell myself that my job is important--protecting my faculty and their students from as much lunacy as I can. But on nights like last night, it's tough to convince my idealistic side of that.
It was an inspiring night, even for those of us in the group who don't teach. Sitting in one of the best book stores in the U.S., hearing some of the greatest of Shakespeare's monologues, delivered by impassioned children, all for free: it's hard to beat that kind of night out!
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