Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: "No Retreat, No Surrender!"


The New York Times–bestselling author and world-renown teacher offers no-nonsense wisdom for teachers of all ages

There’s no one teachers trust more to give them classroom advice than Rafe Esquith. After more than thirty years on the job, Esquith still puts in the countless classroom hours familiar to every dedicated educator. But where his New York Times bestseller Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire was food for a teacher’s mind, Real Talk for ...

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The New York Times–bestselling author and world-renown teacher offers no-nonsense wisdom for teachers of all ages

There’s no one teachers trust more to give them classroom advice than Rafe Esquith. After more than thirty years on the job, Esquith still puts in the countless classroom hours familiar to every dedicated educator. But where his New York Times bestseller Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire was food for a teacher’s mind, Real Talk for Real Teachers is food for a teacher’s soul.

Esquith candidly tackles the three stages of life for the career teacher and offers encouragement to see them through the difficult early years, advice on mid-career classroom building, and novel ideas for longtime educators. With his trademark mix of humor, practicality, and boundless compassion, Esquith proves the perfect companion for teachers who need a quick pick-me-up, a long heart-to-heart, or just a momentary reminder that they’re not alone.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition." Jacques Barzun's admonition is over a half a century old, but nowadays it seems more pertinent than ever. Thus, with its upbeat advice for educators, Real Talk for Real Teachers arrives at an optimum time. Rafe Esquith, its author, possesses perfect credentials: The author of the viral hit Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire is the only classroom teacher to have received the National Medal of the Arts. His strategies to reenergize teachers work because, like his teaching methods, they are grounded in decision-making techniques, not mind-numbing memorization. A perfect primer for dealing with teaching adversity—inside or outside the classroom.

Publishers Weekly
In his fourth book, Los Angeles elementary school teacher Esquith (Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire), who has become famous for transforming his classroom of underprivileged fifth-graders into classical music–playing, Shakespeare-performing superachievers, offers a tonic for stressed-out teachers. While the truly inspiring world of Esquith’s Room 56 at Hobart Elementary is on display, it’s a backdrop for explaining that in spite of teachers’ Herculean efforts, things won’t always work out perfectly. The book is divided into sections addressing new teachers, midcareer teachers, and veterans; Esquith begins by explaining the importance of involving students in the process of creating and maintaining classroom standards, and the need to make the curriculum relevant. Using anecdotes from his 30-year career, Esquith helps teachers focus on what they can achieve, not on what they can’t. He tells teachers to stay positive when dealing with difficult school administrators, meaningless standardized tests, uninvolved or unreasonable parents, and negative coworkers. Esquith also encourages teachers to maintain balance in their lives. Most surprising is his blunt admission that not everything will work, and not every student can be reached—at some point, teachers have to devote their efforts to the students who want to learn. The enormously valuable book will help keep teachers energized. Agent: Bonnie Solow, Solow Literary. (July)
Library Journal
At a time of unfortunate teacher bashing, educators everywhere need Esquith, New York Times best-selling author of Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire! and the only classroom teacher to have received the National Medal of the Arts. Here he provides chicken soup for the teacher's soul, with concrete advice for folks throughout the profession.
Kirkus Reviews
Award-winning teacher Esquith (Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World, 2009, etc.) shares the ups and downs of his career. The only classroom teacher to receive the National Medal of the Arts, the author has taught fifth and sixth grade for more than 25 years at Hobart Elementary, an inner-city Los Angeles school where few of the parents speak English, poverty is rampant, and too often children lack supervision at home. Many of his students become high achievers, going on to college and professional jobs, but Esquith explains that his main aim is to give the children he works with a moral foundation--"to teach kids to be honorable in a world where dishonor stares them in the face constantly." The values he teaches are simple (self-respect, kindness, strong work ethic, etc.), and the author stresses the importance of the teacher consistently modeling these for students. Despite daily provocations--noisy, disrespectful students, interfering parents, narrow-minded school administrators--it is the teacher's responsibility to remain calm and professional, speaking quietly and injecting humor where possible. The author describes how he treats students with respect; his classroom is always immaculate and attractively decorated, and he has a mix of extra projects available as rewards for good work--e.g., creating a multicolored rug from assorted pieces of wool or engaging in a scientific experiment. Esquith also freely gives his time for extracurricular activities, including early-morning math teams, a top-notch after-school Shakespeare program and an annual visit to Washington, D.C. Children voluntarily come to class early and stay late, and the author spends 11 hours on the job. Teaching is a tough job, but Esquith shows that its rewards can be profound.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143125617
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 6/24/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 95,933
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rafe Esquith

Rafe Esquith has taught at Hobart Elementary School for more than twenty-four years. He is the only teacher in history to receive the National Medal of Arts. He has also been made a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. His many other honors include the American Teacher Award, Parents magazine's As You Grow Award, Oprah Winfrey's Use Your Life Award, and the Compassion in Action Award from the Dalai Lama. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Barbara Tong. Read CBS's news story on Rafe Esquith.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue: The Sistine Chapel and My Wife’s Kitchen

I love my wife. A couple of summers ago, Barbara and I were given an amazing gift. A concerned friend thought we were working too hard and used his travel connections to send us on a practically free trip to Italy. We had always wanted to go. Among the many highlights, perhaps the best of all, was an unforgettable evening when we were given a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel.

Any person who has ever seen it will tell you (forgive me) that it is a religious experience. It is impossible to convey its astonishing, overwhelming effect. No picture or film even comes close to seeing it in person. One can actually sit back in a special chair with a headrest and practically reach heaven absorbing the soaring images above on the ceiling.

But what was more interesting to me was the painting on the front wall of the sanctuary.

As our guide taught us, Michelangelo painted this section of the chapel twenty-three years after the ceiling was completed. And it’s different. It’s bleaker than the joyous images overhead. Michelangelo had become gloomier since his younger days, and his paintings reflect this growing cynicism. Age and experience can do that to a person. I am definitely more pessimistic than I was thirty years ago when I began teaching. It was nice thinking I had something in common with Michelangelo.

I realized we shared something else. Even though he was gloomier, he was still painting. He had grown, changed, and suffered, but he remained true to himself. He was still an artist. I am proud that I am still a classroom teacher.

Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of schools in Washington, D.C., is often at the center of many emotional arguments regarding education. She once stated:

Nobody makes a thirty-year or ten-year commitment to a single profession. Name one profession where the assumption is that when you go in, right out of graduating college that the majority of people are going to stay in that profession. It’s not the reality anymore, maybe with the exception of medicine. But short of that people don’t go into jobs and stay there forever anymore.

This might be true but that does not mean it’s a good thing. I think it’s actually a sad reminder of something that is wrong with our society. Lack of commitment is seen in every facet of our daily lives, from personal relationships to the renegotiation of contracts.

I am still teaching after thirty years. I say this not to criticize the many terrific people who have left the classroom to become administrators or move on to entirely different professions, but there is something to be said about a teacher who stays on the front lines. With years of experience, and professional maturity, one can change lives and reach children who previously were beyond reach. In this fast-food society, veteran teachers are a reminder that no one is a fabulous teacher in the beginning. A person might be a wonderful second-year teacher, but no one is truly outstanding with only a year or two of classroom experience. It takes a lifetime to become a master instructor.

I am a fortunate teacher. I have been helped by colleagues, former students, celebrities, and the business world to create the magical classroom known around the world as Room 56. Every day is filled with happy moments as youngsters discover the best in themselves. On an almost daily basis I am visited by returning students who drop in to say thank you and share a laugh about a past adventure.

Even more rewarding, after an exciting day of teaching I get to go home to a woman I adore. We have been happily married for more than twenty years, have lovely children, and now grandchildren. I have done my best to give Barbara my love, good times, and a best friend.

But there is one thing she wants that I have never been able to deliver. My wife wants a new kitchen. We live in a beautiful home built in the 1930s. Barbara, the smart one in this marriage, bought the house when buying one was still possible. It is a beautiful place to live, but the kitchen is adequate at best. Barbara would love to remodel it with modern conveniences, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I am a public school teacher. I do not make a lot of money, and, in fact, am at the bottom of the salary scale for teachers in Los Angeles. A teacher can climb the pay-scale ladder by taking additional classes after school, in the evenings, on weekends, and even online, but I have chosen to spend those hours teaching. I am not complaining, and neither is my wife. But I know she would love a new kitchen.

Having put four kids through college and graduate school, we don’t have a lot of money left over for luxuries. We live a fairly simple life and rarely go out. Because we are careful, a little bit of money can be saved every year. By my calculation, if I can teach for about five hundred years we should have enough savings to get Barbara the new kitchen.

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