Friday, July 14, 2006

Inner-City Teacher Takes No Shortcuts to Success

There are so many great teachers who are making a difference, Rafe Esquith is a one, a hero.

Here's article on the celebrated teacher click here to hear the NPR interview

"There is a misconception that poor children do not care about school," Esquith says. "It's just not true. If you build it, they will come.

"We have a culture here with so many wonderful things for the children to do that they hate leaving this classroom."

He's won the American Teacher Award, been awarded the National Medal of Arts, and made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire.

And yet for 24 years, Rafe Esquith has continued to teach at Hobart Elementary, an inner-city school in Los Angeles, inspiring his fifth graders to excel far beyond the low expectations often placed on poor, immigrant children.

Every morning, Esquith's students arrive at school at 6:30 a.m., nearly two hours before the rest of the students, to work on mental math exercises. It's part of what he calls the "culture of excellence" in his classroom. Esquith expects a lot from his 10-year-olds, and he gets it. They volunteer to come in early, work through recess and stay late until 5 p.m. And they come to class during vacations and holidays.

Their hard work shows up in test scores: They consistently score in the top 5 percent to 10 percent of the country.

The second-largest elementary school in the nation, Hobart has more than 2,000 students; 90 percent live below the poverty level. All are from immigrant families, primarily Hispanic and Asian. Though none speaks English as a first language, Esquith's students read literature far above their fifth-grade level -- Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird.

But Esquith takes his students beyond contemporary literature and into a world at the heart and soul of his teaching: an intensive immersion in William Shakespeare -- reading his plays, studying his life and times. This yearlong study culminates in April, when students present a full-length, unabridged production of Shakespeare. Last year, it was Hamlet. This year, it's The Taming of the Shrew.

That intensive education has taken the "Hobart Shakespearians" far beyond their classroom; they've appeared at the Old Globe Theatre in London, before the Royal Shakespeare Company, and at Shakespearian festivals throughout the United States. They've also garnered attention from the likes of actor Ian McKellan and Oprah Winfrey, who recently donated $100,000 to the class' activities.

As Esquith explains it, his students aren't geniuses; they just outwork everybody else.

To check out his book There Are No Shortcut click here

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