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Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year

4.2 out of 5 stars 265 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1565122796
ISBN-10: 1565122798
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Esmé Raji Codell has written a funny, hip diary filled with one-liners and unadorned thoughts that speak volumes about the raw, emotional life of a first-year teacher. Like Ally McBeal in the classroom, the miniskirted and idealistic Codell sometimes fantasizes her career is a musical. Her inner-city Chicago elementary school fades to black as the lunch lady strikes an arabesque or a struggling student performs the dance of the dying swan, all set to her interior soundtrack. (Tina Turner's "Funkier Than a Mosquita's Tweeter" echoes whenever her idea-stealing, dimwitted principal harangues her.) She's a rash, petite, white lady who roller-skates through the halls and insists that her fifth-graders call her "Madame Esmé." But it's not all fun and games: she introduces us to children who fling their desks and apologize in tears, and at one point, after reporting a disruptive student to her mother, who subsequently thrashes the young girl, she dry heaves into her classroom's trash can.

Codell's 24-year-old voice is loud and clear ("Serious gross out," she writes after the scorned principal hugs her), though, on the principle that kids say the darnedest things, she often simply repeats their comments for comic effect. She's got sass, maybe too much self-confidence at times, and though there's no deep introspection in Educating Esmé, you'll be convinced her 10-year-old charges emerge the better for knowing her. --Jodi Mailander Farrell --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Portions of Codell's diary of her experiences as a first-year teacher in a Chicago inner-city elementary school were first aired on WBEZ radio, in that city, as part of its Life Stories series. Subsequently rounded out into a book, the material still comes across like it's meant to be read aloud. Codell's voice carries the enthusiasm thatAas a 24-year-old hardcore idealistAshe brought to her difficult job. Hired for a brand-new school, she tells how she let her "na?vet?" work to her own advantage. She invented ways to engage her troubled, sometimes hostile students, relying on jerry-rigged visual aids, group craft projects, role-reversing skits and the like. Villains appear as well, such as her evil principal, Mr. Turner, a "homophobic, backward idiot." Codell throws herself into the reading, imitating her kids' voices, sounding truly exasperated at each obstacle she faces. Based on the 1999 Algonquin hardcover. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (June 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565122798
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565122796
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.6 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (265 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on February 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading this book, in one sitting. I was surprised to find the strong gut reactions that have prompted people to review it here. It is, after all, a diary, not a textbook on teaching methods or a technical report on the state of public education. While I am sure it was edited before publication, it is still a diary, and sounds like it might be very much the way it was actually written at the time. A diary is not written while worrying about what other people will think of it. It is a space for your personal feelings and experiences. After all, if Esme Codell was trying to glorify herself as a teacher, why would she leave in passages describing those days when she just doesn't care, or hates the children she's teaching?
This book is one person describing her experiences in her first year of teaching. Any new graduate, not just new teachers, leaving school with a degree in something they love, sure that they now have the knowledge and ability to change the world, will identify with Esme Codell. Whether or not you like her, or agree with her methods, that isn't the point of her writing. What she is sharing are her own personal feelings and experiences during her first year of teaching. How many other people out there would be willing to share their diaries, even edited, with others? Like her or not, you have to give her credit for what she did. After all, if we only read books written by people we like and whose ideas we agree with, it would be a pretty boring life!
Note for librarians: the part where the author compares hookers to librarians is a blast, and it's meant as a compliment too!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although teachers in suburban schools will find themselves longing for the freedom of speech that Madame Esme exercises when dealing with her superiors, they will at the same time find themselves vindicated by knowing that SOMEONE out there is telling administrators what for! As a first year teacher myself who felt as though I was drowning, this book gave me hope and laughter -- two necessary tools for surviving the first year in any school. I completely don't understand the reveiwer who hated this book, claiming that not all teachers are "like that"; that "some of us have morals." This person must have read only a sentence or two in this book. Esme Codell has extremely lofty morals -- and all teachers should aspire to them. She has heart and creativity and strength. The only flaw to this book is that most first-year teachers are not as gifted and confident as Codell, so in that sense it may be difficult to relate to. However, it contains a wealth of fresh ideas, and like I said, those two magic ingredients of a teacher's survival -- hope and laughter.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book all in one sitting because it was absolutely wonderful. I am one of those bright-eyed, cheery teachers-to-be who is certain she can change the world and I know I need a reality check every once in a while. Esme's spirit and uncensored voice are compelling. Her experiences will make you laugh and cry, and at times you might gasp in shock at the brutality in her truthfulness, but at no time do you lose touch with her sense of dedication. She responds to idiocracy and teaches her children the only way she knows how--by doing what she KNOWS works and what is best for her students. After all, they learned their alphabet, their division, and to love reading. Shouldn't those be the measure of a great educator?
I am a future teacher who has trouble standing up for myself. Esme does what she knows is right, never what she is told. This book showed me that I don't have to swallow the garbage that is shoveled at me. Thank you, Madam Esme, for teaching me confidence.
PS: One negative reviewer who criticized just about everything in the book REALLY wanted to use the word "kowtowing" instead of that other misspelled one. Perhaps she could have used a few minutes in Madame Esme's class herself.
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Format: Paperback
As a teacher who spent her first years teaching in inner city schools, I was curious and excited to read Educating Esme. I was disappointed that there was less introspection and too much self-promotion. I would be angry if I had been another teacher at this school because by "Madame" Esme's accounts, she is the only one who is working there. Her approach to teaching works for her, and I admire this and enjoyed reading about it. She is inventive and creative and helped her students a great deal. But, just because other teachers and administrators did not praise her every second and did not agree with all of her methodology, I felt she labeled them "bad," and this is not always the case.
Looking in is always an enlightening experience. I enjoyed looking into Esme's classroom and came away with many great teaching ideas. Where this book falls short is looking at the long-term effects and their fundamental causes. Maybe I'm just a big picture type of person, but I thought Esme came across as very self-absorbed. A fast read, I think the title is misleading--Esme seems to believe that she has all of the education she needs.
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