LearnBoost welcomes Hobart Boulevard Elementary
Rafe Esquith is an innovative, multiple-award-winning American teacher at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, in Los Angeles, California, where he has taught since 1981. Many of his students, who are all from a community of poor and immigrant families, start class very early, leave late and typically achieve high scores in standardized tests. Esquith has authored books about teaching, and a documentary film has been made about his annual class Shakespeare productions.
His teaching honors include the 1992 Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, a Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University, Oprah Winfrey’s $100,000 "Use Your Life Award", Parents Magazine’s "As You Grow Award", National Medal of Arts, and Esquith was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire.
A graduate of UCLA, Esquith began teaching in 1981 at Hobart, the second-largest elementary school in the United States. Most of the school's 2,000 students come from immigrant Central American and Korean families. According to a 2005 report on National Public Radio, 90 percent of his students were living below the poverty level, and all were from immigrant families, with none speaking English as a first language.
Esquith's fifth-grade students consistently score in the top 5 to 10 percent of the country in standardized tests. Many of Esquith's students voluntarily start class at 6:30 each morning, two hours before the rest of the school's students. They volunteer to come early, work through recess and stay as late as 6:00 pm, and also come to class during vacations and holidays.
Each April the Hobart Shakespeareans, as Esquith’s students are known, perform one of Shakespeare's plays. They have opened for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and appeared at the Globe Theater in London. They also were hired by Sir Peter Hall to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
Esquith has a much longer work day than is typical for teachers, starting at 6:30 a.m. and not ending until 5 or 6 p.m., and he has said that can't be expected of other teachers. His longer period of time with the students helps him to both cover material that will be on standardized tests and teach topics that he himself is passionate about — Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and baseball (used both to help with physical fitness and mathematics). "The best teachers I know all put themselves in the classroom," he said in a 2007 interview. "If you're a great cook, spend part of your day cooking with the children, and if you love the Chronicles of Narnia, then read that with your children even if it isn't part of the prescribed reading text of your school."
Not only do his students have long school days, they also come in on holidays and are given reading assignments considered well beyond the typical fifth grader's reading level, although Esquith says they are no brighter than typical students.
He also varies teaching methods within individual classrooms to reflect differences in learning styles among students. Esquith also has high expectations of his students. Expecting his fifth graders, who are generally from families whose primary language is not English, to study and understand Shakespeare, for example.
Former students continue to help Esquith with current classes. Some come back to discuss their experiences. In a 2007 interview, Esquith said: "A lot of times a young teacher has a vision of what they want their children to be, but the children who grow up in bad neighborhoods [...] can't have that vision. They've never seen it — they don't know what it looks like. But when former students of mine come back and talk to them about coming back from Princeton or U.S.C. or U.C.L.A. or anywhere, the children realize, 'Hey, this could be me.' They really start to see how what they do now affects their life later." The involvement of former students who have done well helps to counter the lack of involvement from parents who are often poor and sometimes illegal immigrants without much education themselves and who aren't able to stimulate their children's intellectual and educational interests and motivate them because of lack of time or knowledge, according to Esquith.
Esquith has said he advises young teachers never to fight with administrators: "Always agree with them. Tell them that, 'You know, I understand where you're coming from', and try to quietly work around the system. I rarely fight with anybody in my school because that doesn't help the children."
Teachers control only one aspect of a child's education, which is also influenced by the involvement of parents, school administrators, teachers unions, testing services and textbook publishers, according to Esquith.
"I've been a teacher now for 27 years," Esquith said in a 2007 interview. "I have still not been to one staff meeting where character was discussed, honestly discussed — how we get children to behave themselves, not because they're afraid of punishment but because they really adopt a code of civil behavior."
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