Must-Reads, Professional Development

BOMish: May 2018 {“Educating Esmé”}

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And just like that, it’s May– perhaps the busiest and most anticipated month of any educator, as learning targets perhaps seem more improbable than nailing a bullseye blindfolded. Final papers and lab reports loom in the distance while the pile of grading takes on a magical quality of never actually diminishing- only growing exponentially, despite what your bloodshot eyes may say otherwise.

Fear not, Educators. June is nigh.

What a great time to find the time NOT to read, right? 

R I I I I G H T ? 

Wrong! Remember, you’re responsible for your own professional development. Read like your profession depends on it (it does).

Alas, it’s a great season for a lighthearted yet valuable read. My BOMish of May came to me during the May of my first year teaching by a former teaching mentor of mine, a history teacher named Matt. Matt flattered me by saying that I reminded him of Madame Esmé herself, the author/heroine/protagonist/bada$$ teacher of Educating Esmé– a compliment which I kindly laughed off as I was in the midst of confidently nearing the end of barely surviving my own first year of teaching.

In fact, Matt had extraordinary timing when he gave this to me that fateful May day. Reading Esmé’s (mis)adventures fueled me with a quad-shot of inspiration– that jolt I’d been missing since September. After finishing the book, I was running on all cylinders, confident I could make it to the end of the school year as hopeful and energized as I’d began it. (You may be wondering, kind Readers, if that confidence translated to success. I’d estimate I made it at least 50% back to my September naivete exuberance, but for a first-year teacher in May? That’s pretty darn exceptional ;))

Educating Esmé: Diary of a First-Year Teacher (Esmé Raji Codell)

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  • The Stats: 290 Pages, published September 2009
  • Who Should Read It: First-year teachers, veteran teachers, school administrators, and parents
  • My Rating (out of 5 ♥): ♥♥♥♥
  • My Thoughts: Hot out of teacher-training and ready to change the world, Esmé enters her first-year teaching 5th grade at a tough Chicago public school. It’s clear from the start the care and love Esmé has for her students and the profession, as she toes the line in class daily of giving in to her verve and joie de vivre through silly antics (think rollerskating in the hallways, renaming math class “puzzling” class, making a homemade time machine in class that involves a great deal of rolling around on the floor), contrasting the raw and heartbreaking challenges of teaching. Though the book is light, peppered with her characteristic sass, Esmé isn’t shy to reveal the underbelly of School World, such as her cringe-worthy and hands-on (literally!!) principal who sees her investment to innovation in her classroom as an inconvenience; or the abuse inflicted by a parent to her child at a parent-teacher conference; as well as the realities of an underfunded school with a district screaming for performance to weary, apathetic educators (Esmé’s fellow faculty). Esmé narrates the weird, the ugly, and the raw with heart, and I was rooting hard for this young teacher with her Miss Frizzle flair. I left this book inspired to awaken that creative, ambitious, and confident inner teacher (who I hadn’t seen since the fall) and excited to, against all odds, keep trying. At times, admittedly, I found myself jealous of Esmé because while she does face challenge, it’s never exactly related to her confidence nor competence in her career– something common in the first-year teaching trauma. I was left wondering if she left these parts out, or if she simply didn’t experience them. 

My biggest grievance with this book is that after making it through the school year victoriously, Esmé-the-hero informs us she won’t be returning to the classroom and has decided to pursue being a librarian instead. 

Say what?!

I FELT SO DECEIVED!!! If Esmé can make it, I can make it… but now Esmé’s decided not to make it; so maybe I can’t make it, or maybe I shouldn’t make it, either?! This aspect left me wondering if she left something out, something too juicy or personal for a book. The less-kind part of my mind wonders if perhaps she underwent a first-year teaching experiment, knowing she’d write a book, and thus was less attached to the career overall. Who can know? 

Regardless of the plot twist, this book is a refreshing, delicious read if you’re an educator, an administrator, or have any experience with the highs and lows of a school year. Thank you, Esmé, for taking us on your ride!

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