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From Barnes & NobleEducating é is the autobiographical diary of a gutsy fifth-grade teacher, Esmé Raji Codell, who is so full of a lust for teaching and a love of children that no crumbling public school system or stagnant bureaucracy can get in her way. Her inner-city Chicago students face intimidating odds -- poverty, violence, gangs, miseducation, and a long line of adults who don't believe "these children" can ever amount to anything. Madame Esmé, however, is undaunted. Her diary reveals a woman with boundless zeal determined to be herself and to educate her children with every last drop of energy in her body. From a Zydeco Christmas pageant and a Multiplication Cha Cha to a Fairy Tale Festival complete with Frog Prince cupcakes and an Emperor's New Clothes Fashion Show, Madame Esmé creates an endless stream of whimsical (and educational) projects for her students to enjoy.
While one may not agree with her every teaching decision, it's impossible not to get a kick out of her verve and sassy attitude in the face of trouble. When her incompetent principal persists in calling her late at night, Madame Esmé handles the situation by returning his call at three o'clock in the morning, saying, "Oooh, did I wake you up? I'm so sorry. It's just that you called me so late. I knew you wouldn't call me so late if it wasn't terribly important" -- and has no further trouble with late calls. When another incompetent administrator moves a poster in Esmé's classroom, she responds in kind by marching into the woman's office and rearranging a plant. This woman, too, leaves her alone.
But Madamee Esmé is not just flip. When one of her boys and his mother need a place to stay because of a domestic violence problem, Esmé opens her own home to them. Another day, a student brings her two-year-old sister to school, so Esmé carries the child in her arms all day as she teaches, saying "What else could anyone do?" When a student is ashamed of the saris her mother wears, Madame Esmé dons one herself, and soon the girl and all her friends are wearing beautiful, silky saris to school. Yet no one ever seems to acknowledge her work, let alone thank her, and she is not even granted the graciousness of being left alone in her choice of names -- the principal persists in insisting she be called "Ms." Esmé. Despite the lack of support she receives, Madame Esmé devotes her entire life to her students, to the point where she has no time off and even her relationship with her boyfriend suffers.
Anyone who has been underappreciated or downright encumbered by a boss or bureaucracy will empathize with the story of Madame Esmé and be inspired by her ability to stick up for herself and her students with confidence. At the beginning of the school year, when some teachers tell her that her room is overstimulating, Madame Esmé responds to herself, "They are totally jealous because I have the most insanely beautiful classroom ever, of all time.... I feel sorry for any kid who's not in this room." She will not be put off, and she will not be toned down.
Teaching is hard work. In the public school system, teachers are cruelly overburdened. Dedication is overlooked. Innovation is scorned. Teachers like Esmé who take on the job with enthusiasm and love are precious to our society and our children. They deserve to be celebrated. In telling her own story, Esmé is honoring all teachers like her.