Review

Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year

by Esme Raji Codell



We've all had teachers we've loved and teachers we've hated. My
list of teachers I've loved includes 1) Mrs. Swan (Kindergarten):
Always very nice and had great peanut and marshmallow parties, and
2) Mr. Johnson (Professor of Communication): Didn't cringe when I
submitted my television news projects on newsworthy events such as
"Dressing Up at the Goodwill Store" and "Barry Williams --- TV's
'Greg Brady' Lives On --- Groovy!." And, of course, among the
teachers I hated were 1) Mr. Pickles (6th Grade Substitute): His
name was Mr. Pickles, and 2) Bonna Strange (High School PE): She
told my dad I was on drugs because I did my jumping jacks
funny.

We could all make these kinds of lists, and I'm guessing that when
Esme Raji Codell's students come up with teacher lists of their
own, she will be one of their favorites. Her revealing and humorous
book, EDUCATING ESME: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, describes
her trials and tribulations on the road to educating our
youth.

Incompetent administrators won't get in her way. Neither will
abusive parents, gang members, weary teachers, angry children,
dimwitted principals, and her own insecurities. She's in the
classroom to teach and she's doing it with her own style, whether
it be cha-cha dancing during multiplication lessons or performing
in front of at-risk students in the library. Throw that old teacher
manual out the window (and into a garbage bin, littering on school
grounds is strictly forbidden), Esme's in town.

"Little thoughts:...Kyle performs better in math if I let him stand
on his head whenever he wants. Ashworth could be a children's
author and illustrator someday, his drawings are so bold, his
writing so direct. Ruben draws muscle men in his journal but hides
from the gangs after school in the public library."

Do you want to know what happens within the hallowed halls of
public school? Do you want to know what teachers put up with, what
teachers delight in, what teachers learn from themselves? EDUCATING
ESME will enlighten you.

My college friend Randy is actually fairly new to the teaching
profession. He graduated a few years ago and now is an
up-and-coming history teacher at a nearby high school. I can't
imagine what a teacher must go through each and every day (the
snickering kids in the back of the room, the fights in the hallway,
the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise!). But he does it well and he
loves it --- it's rewarding and challenging and something that kids
can't do without (someone to teach them and someone to look up
to).

Esme feels the same way in her daily triumphs and failures in the
classroom. "The kids like the Greek myths. We've been studying them
for a few weeks. They were impressed that Cronus ate his children.
I think some of them have fathers who have dispositions like
Cronus. They loved the story of the kidnapping of Persephone,
especially when I ripped open the pomegranate, fruit of the dead,
and red juice dribbled down my wrists. Ohhhhhh!"

This is a great book for parents, for teachers, and for anyone
concerned about today's education system. If they have people like
Esme and my friend Randy around, there's nothing to fear.

PS...Pay teachers more money!

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 21, 2011

Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year
by Esme Raji Codell

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2001
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1565122798
  • ISBN-13: 9781565122796