Saturday, June 2, 2012

Educating Esme: An A-typical book review

Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year

I have often wondered if a simple, personal journal could be published as a memoir; I mean in its original state of being a journal, would there be enough interest and relativity to make people want to buy it? 
Well, my answer came in the form of one such memoir, "Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year".

Esme Raji Codell shared with the world what most of us would deem too personal, too revealing, and maybe a tad inappropriate to share beyond our tight circle of friends.  In her journalistic style memoir, "Educating Esme", Codell takes us along with her as she elegantly stumbles through hir first year of teaching in an inner-city Chicago public school. 

I won't go into a typical summation of this book but rather share some of my favorite discoveries while foraging through its pages:
  • Esme opens her memoir with a reflection on her mentor, Ismene.  And, as with any great mentor, we find Ismene's wisdom enlightening us at the most opportune moments.  In one of these moments, Esme reflects back on some of what Ismene taught her:
    • to ignore bad behavior as long as you can stand it
    • maintain quiet lines
    • that a soft voice can be more effective than a loud one
    • to wait patiently for your students to answer questions (this is commonly referred to in the education world as "wait time")
  • Accountability doesn't come from the top-down, such as with NCLB, but rather from within.  Accountability comes when a teacher is personally invested in what he or she is doing. Esme called this "education's best-kept secret".
  • In sharing a seemingly "minute" incident of her students' success, Esme eloquently wrote the following: "I know in the face of the wide world these are small victories, but sometimes a little song is sweet to hear, even if an orchesta is more accomplished" (page 158). It is these sweet songs that I carry with me as an educator!
  • Ending her memoir with, "Of course, I cried. There was so much I wanted to say. But the sands of the hourglass fell, and they left me, single file." Anyone who has ever said goodbye to a classroom full of students should know exactly how she felt!
This book is a quick read, much to quick for me! I felt personally invested in Esme's students as I journeyed with her through that tumultuous first year. And, when her students slipped past her in single file, I shed a tear for every student that I have ever had to say goodbye to. 

Thank you Esme for reminding me how fragile teaching is but how strong the bonds between teacher and student can be!

Have you read "Educating Esme"?  I would love to hear your thoughts about Ms. Codell's memoir!

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