August 12, 2011

There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith

More than eighteen months ago, while Bart was working for a couple of weeks in Florida, I flew down to spend the weekend with him and on a rainy Saturday, we stopped in at a Barnes and Noble and browsed around for quite a while. Bart picked up a copy of Lighting Their Fires and together, we read the prologue. It was so inspiring that we talked about it for the rest of the weekend, but then we never picked up a copy of the book and it sort of faded away.

Until a few weeks ago, when my mom sent us a copy of the PBS documentary The Hobart Shakespeareans. We watched it on a quiet Sunday evening after Ella was in bed. A month later, I've read all three of Rafe Esquith's books in their entirety.

He has taught at an inner-city elementary school in Los Angeles for over some thirty years and his success with his students has been remarkable. They perform full-length Shakespeare plays, read far above their grade level, talk about their academics with clarity that I'd be impressed with from students twice their grade, travel the country, and go on to phenomenal universities.

Although his books tend to gear more toward public school teachers, I found enormous inspiration for homeschooling (which I plan to do with our children, as I've mentioned before), but even if you have no interest in homeschooling, I think many of the principles and methods he discusses could be incorporated with great success into any family.

I like Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire because it has such detail about what he teaches and how he approaches different subjects. There Are No Shortcuts is a really great overview of his teaching philosophies and goals.  Lighting Their Fires was by far my least favorite - if you've read the other two, I think you can skip it.

I've read many reviews of his books on Amazon and Goodreads since finishing these books and all the low stars talk about how arrogant he is or how unrealistic and I won't pretend that I didn't see what those reviewers are talking about. It can get a little overbearing to hear about how lousy all the other teachers are and how fantastic his class is. I chose to not be bothered by it.

And it is rather incredible how MUCH stuff he accomplishes - does the man not sleep?!

That aside, I am totally on fire after reading these books; there is so much to read and watch, so many skills to develop, so much of the world to see, and so many ways to make all of those things meaningful and exciting.

These books are quick reads; you could probably polish off any one of them in a couple of hours, but I can't stop thinking about them or talking Bart's ear off about them (he's currently reading Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire because he's a very good soul).

One book checked out from the library, one borrowed from my mom, and one given to me by my mom, but the opinions expressed here are solely mine  . . .


  1. These will definitely go on my to-read this. I love teaching and considered it as a career (one day I'd like to teach a couple of community college classes as an adjunct when I'm able to just work part time), but the extreme level of commitment that these really noteworthy teachers have is hard to replicate. It's certainly commendable, but I just can't imagine being that committed if I had a family of my own.

  2. Sounds very inspirational! I taught for a whole three semesters and I have tremendous respect for anyone who can do it well. (I cannot.)

  3. I'm still considering teaching, and the program in DC that I am looking at is all inner city...this would be a good read for me, I think! Adding to my queue!

  4. How have I never heard of this? Awesome. Going in my to-be-read pile.

  5. I'd love to hear more about your decision to homeschool, and your plans. It's something I've been considering, but it's pretty intimidating!

  6. We were probably reading these and freaking about them at the same time! You need to tap into ALl books Teach For America!! My husband was recruited by them and at 60 mind you, is now in inner city Tulsa teaching 6th grade!!! Race was part of his inspiration!


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