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Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 Paperback – December 18, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 233 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Esquith might be the only public school teacher to be honored by both Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama; he is the only school teacher ever to receive the president's National Medal of the Arts. For the past 25 years, Esquith has taught fifth graders at Hobart Elementary in central Los Angeles. Like most progressive educators, Esquith is outraged by the tyranny of testing, the scripting of teaching under "No Child Left Behind" and the overwhelming bureaucratization of the education industry. Still, he's done wonders with the basic curriculum—developing a hands-on arts program, a money-management curriculum and a sports-based statistics unit. Esquith and his Hobart Shakespeareans are world famous for the rock opera they create every year. Throughout each school day, Esquith teaches life skills: how to think about problems, how to plan a strategy to solve them and, most important, how to work together and be nice to each other. While his goals are inspiring, he's also practical—most chapters include affordable, how-to directions for a variety of his most effective classroom activities; he's even got a few tips for revamping those inescapable "test prep" sessions. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Esquith is a modern-day Thoreau, preaching the value of good work, honest self- reflection, and the courage to go one's own way."

"Politicians, burbling over how to educate the underclass, would do well to stop by Rafe Esquith's fifth-grade class."

"The most interesting and influential classroom teacher in the country."
-The Washington Post

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (December 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143112864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143112860
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rafe Esquith has taught at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles for twenty-four years. He is the only teacher to have been awarded the president's National Medal of the Arts. His many other honors and awards include the American Teacher Award, Parents magazine As You Grow Award, Oprah Winfrey's Use Your Life Award TM, and People magazine's Heroes Among Us Award.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
During our teaching careers, most of us have experienced a few "Ah-ha" moments. For Rafe Esquith, his wake-up call was literally when his hair caught on fire during a science experiment. Why was he the last one in the class to realize his head was ablaze - because he had inadvertently reached classroom nirvana.

I think of it as being in the zone, Esquith labels it "ignoring the crap," either way, this gifted teacher had a transcendental moment that altered his educational philosophy forever and his influence is rapidly spreading into classrooms across the globe. Part quixotic and possibly part "mad," he has transformed his 5th grade class, of mainly ESL students, into Shakespeare-quoting individuals who have learned how to take charge of their own learning.

Esquith's book challenges such issues as the obsession with high-stakes testing, unresponsive administrators, ineffective professional development opportunities, and the "demons" that take away our energy and spirit. At the heart of his "cookbook" is getting students to take responsibility for their actions and to value failure as an integral part of the learning process.

Check out this book because it explores the realities of teaching difficult students, as opposed to your typical educational log of impractical theories. Pick up this book if you agree with his classroom motto of, "Be nice, work hard. There are no shortcuts." Finally, purchase this book if the biggest fear for your students is that they become ordinary.

Lastly, what really motivated me to buy this book was that Esquith hasn't been lured out of the classroom. Instead, he continues to embrace his mission of finding the different keys it takes to ignite each of his students.

Michael James D'Amato, author of "The Classroom"
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Format: Hardcover
Rafe Esquith's latest book is aimed at teachers and parents, but the parent part is mostly lip service -- this is mainly a book for teachers. If you're interested in this "teacher of the year's" methods, this book may be worth a look. It is less so if you teach a particular subject, as the book is better suited to elementary teachers who are generalists and teach English, math, social studies, science, art, music, and gym (to name a few) because he devotes an entire chapter to each. High school and middle school teachers will find less of interest here.

OK, so what is it you're looking for from a book like this? If you're more in it for Rafe's STORY and for what goes on his classroom, have a ball. If you're more in it for selfish reasons -- that is, methods you might emulate yourself in the classroom, proceed with care. There's no denying the book contains some useful advice and methods, but it also devotes much attention to matters beyond the realm and finances of most teachers -- full-play productions of Shakespeare, field trips that involve airplane flights (not buses) cross country, film festivals and book clubs held after school or at 6:30 in the morning. Clearly this is a devoted man and, by comparison, some teachers may feel depressed by all he pulls off (while still maintaining a life of his own).

Highlights for me were the Six Levels (in which Rafe explains wrong reasons and right reasons that kids obey their teachers), the well-thought out attack on standardized testing (the bane of any school), and the overall iconoclastic tone. Also, a few of his ideas were illuminating. True, there were not a lot of practical ideas for the classroom, but there were some and some are bound to be of use for teacher/readers.
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Format: Paperback
I read Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire for an educational psychology class. I found his book to be very readable and full of practical information, but it is definitely for the most dedicated teachers.

Esquith writes in a readable style that is entertaining and informative. The title itself shows this, but the point of the story about his hair being caught on fire is how he became so engrossed in helping a student with her science experiment that he didn't even realize what was happening to him. The student was also really impacted by his concern. Esquith uses many examples from his own students and experience throughout the book. An example of this would be when he describes his field trips to Washington D.C. He details, very specifically, what works for his class and why it is important not to overwhelm the kids with so many things to do.

However, Esquith is a very exceptional teacher. He puts in over 12 hours a day, from the early morning to late at night, helping students who need additional help and providing before-school and after-school activities. It is evident that his extra time and effort is well-worth it, because he is helping under-privileged ESL students become world-renowned Hobart Shakespeareans. Many teachers will not have that time or level of dedication to commit to our careers, but I found some very practical suggestions which I could see incorporating into my classroom someday.

First, I liked his theory of packing learning into every moment of every day. From the moment his students walk into the door in the morning they are learning and Esquith keeps up the momentum throughout the day. He packs as much in by incorporating material from different subjects into one activity, even in art and music.
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