More Students and Readers Defend Rafe Esquith

A few days ago I posted an interview with one of Rafe Esquith’s former students, a recent graduate of New York University, who explained the many ways that Esquith, who was once described as “the greatest teacher in America,” and the Hobart Shakespeareans changed his life. My interview with Rudy De La Cruz, the former student, prompted a number of emails from other students, some of which I included in the original post. In this post, I’m publishing two new communications. The first is from a young woman named Joanna Lee who writes, in part:

Rafe showed me the world, but he also showed me the value of humility and honesty. He taught me that success is not defined by how much you make or how famous you are, but that it is honorable to be honest and do good. I am still trying to apply that to my life and practice today, and the classroom motto of ‘Be Nice, Work Hard’ follows me wherever I go. He showed me that I could achieve my dreams but also made me think about how those dreams could do good and help other people.

The second is from a reader who left a disturbing comment about the Los Angeles United School District’s “witchhunt”; in it, he notes that the LAUSD has never mentioned Esquith during staff development or trainings. He writes in part:

I believe that the investigation of Mr. Esquith is driven partly by …contempt these administrators have for independent teachers who don’t follow the LAUSD script. Mr. Esquith doesn’t use the LAUSD curriculum, and he’s written critically about school districts’ disheartening and negative treatment of teachers around the country. I’ve no doubt that there must be some bad blood towards Esquith somewhere in the LAUSD administration…They should have been championing this teacher a long time ago, not just investigating him today. 

As noted in my post, I invite other former students to email me at andrea.gabor@baruch.cuny.edu and to put “Rafe Esquith” in the subject field.

Here is the first comment from Joanna Lee:

My name is Joanna Lee, and I was in Rafe’s 5th grade class in the year 2000, nearly 15 years ago. When I met him for the first time during Shakespeare tryouts for Henry V, little did I know I was going to meet a life-long mentor and friend. I also didn’t know that I would end up at Brown University studying art history, graduating at the top of my class, and receiving three out of the four awards in my department ceremony. I come from a family of immigrant parents and am the first in my family to go to college. Where I am today has everything to do with Rafe, and I would not be where I am if I had not met him.

Before meeting Rafe, I would say that I was one of those students in class who were often overlooked by teachers. I didn’t get the best grades in class but wasn’t notoriously disrupting the class either. I was shy, somewhat afraid to speak up, and didn’t stand out. I’m grateful that Rafe saw my potential and was persistent to see my development through.

In Rafe’s class and Shakespeare program, he introduced us to literature, science, and arts that I would have never encountered at the age of nine. I was introduced to authors and artists like Mark Twain and Piet Mondrian who changed my life. I clearly remember reading Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in his fifth grade class because it was my favorite book and the first book that had moved me to tears. I cried as Huck tears up his letter and chooses Jim over society’s morals and rules. At a young age, I learned about friendship, love, and how to decide for myself a right and wrong outside of the expectations dictated by our culture and society.

We also read Shakespeare plays and traveled around the world, while performing at places like the Supreme Court and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Through these eye-opening experiences, I was shown the world and its possibilities. It’s important that students go on these trips because it is from these experiences that I learned and really treasured the idea that I could in fact accomplish anything if I wanted to.

Rafe showed me the world, but he also showed me the value of humility and honesty. He taught me that success is not defined by how much you make or how famous you are, but that it is honorable to be honest and do good. I am still trying to apply that to my life and practice today, and the classroom motto of ‘Be Nice, Work Hard’ follows me wherever I go. He showed me that I could achieve my dreams but also made me think about how those dreams could do good and help other people.

Rafe is someone who I consider to be not just a friend but also family. He has been fully supportive and a guiding light in all of my life’s journeys – from learning algebra in the 7th grade, to memorizing SAT vocabulary in high school, to going through a sophomore slump in college, to living abroad in France, Korea, and China, and most recently when facing tragedy and loss in my family. My parents adore him and consider him to be the greatest teacher they know. They are so grateful for his love and sacrifice that they bring him a birthday cake to the classroom every year. We consider him as family, and I am certain that I am not the only one who thinks so.

Rafe being suspended from teaching is a disservice to our community and frankly, the future of education. My heart goes out to the students whose education has been abruptly disrupted, in addition to the play they had been working so hard on. I don’t know of a better human being than Rafe Esquith and I urge you to bring him back to the classroom.

This second comment is from a reader named Gerald:

I’ve had a great deal of experience with the L.A. Unified School District over the past many years, and their treatment of Mr. Esquith is no surprise to me. There is a profound schism in the LAUSD between district level administrators and classroom teachers. I know from recent experience that the LAUSD has adopted a Michelle Rhee “don’t question our authority” style of management and a Gilded Age attitude towards “the workers”. Because of this, I believe that the investigation of Mr. Esquith is driven partly by some administrators lack of understanding of what it takes to truly inspire students, and the contempt these administrators have for independent teachers who don’t follow the LAUSD script. Mr. Esquith doesn’t use the LAUSD curriculum, and he’s written critically about school districts’ disheartening and negative treatment of teachers around the country. I’ve no doubt that there must be some bad blood towards Esquith somewhere in the LAUSD administration. They are, it seems, the only institution that hasn’t awarded or recognized his work- literally the only one! They never mention him in staff trainings or professional developments and they never refer to him as a model of good teaching- but they sure are working hard to investigate him! If they really valued Esquith and his work, they would have defended him against the initial petty complaint over his “joke’. Instead, they took that complaint and began a witch hunt. Regardless of whether he is innocent or guilty of the other abuse accusations against him, the real crime is how the LAUSD treats him and any teacher who doesn’t goose step to their orders. If you have a voice that people listen to, I implore you to use it to confront the LAUSD and question them about why they’re persecuting a teacher who’s inspired his students and provided them with life experiences they couldn’t have any other way. They should have been championing this teacher a long time ago, not just investigating him today.

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6 Responses to More Students and Readers Defend Rafe Esquith

  1. Pingback: More of Rafe Esquith’s Former Students Reach Out to Andrea Gabor | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. Barbara says:

    It is through experiences, not testing that students grow, something the LAUSD has never figured out. There is no magic bullet. It costs more to fund trips and theatre than Pearson, but oh how much further our students would go in life if they received a real education instead of the fraudulent LAUSD one.

  3. familiarlittlefrog says:

    Technically, I was not one of Rafe’s students, but in a way I am. I am a teacher. I never met Rafe personally (I wish I could!), but I have read all of his books, and I re-read “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire” every school year. I have given it as gifts and led teacher discussions on the principles discussed within it.

    His influence extends far, far beyond the students and families of Room 56.

    Shame on LAUSD.

  4. Pingback: More of Rafe Esquith’s Former Students Reach Out to Andrea Gabor | GorgeousRicmond

  5. There used to be more room in LAUSD for innovation and creativity. That started to decline after NCLB, which elevated the importance of test scores, and punished schools whose students fell short, no matter how rich their curriculum. But it wasn’t until Eli Broad got his hooks into the Board and installed John Deasy, did the treatment of teachers go off the deep end and into inane cruelty. Make no mistake about it. Broad is the shot caller, the capo di tutti capi. He wants to entirely privatize LAUSD, and teachers like Esquith and Iris Stevenson are in his way.

  6. Lisa Currin says:

    Rafe criticized Common Core and SBAC testing, rightfully so. I am a teacher and believe that I could be fired over my either not teaching CC or openly criticizing the new educational disaster.

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