Thursday, September 17, 2009

Educating Esme Blog Tour*Interview*

I had the very unique and extremely special privilege of receiving Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year and being a part of the Educating Esme Blog Tour this past month!

Which means I got to interview the author herself: Esme Raji Codell! And let me tell you, this is the most exciting thing that's happened to me so far in my blogging 'career...'

Educating Esme, the true story of a teacher's first year, was first published in 1999, and 10 years later is still going strong with a newly vamped 10th year anniversary edition featuring a new Foreword by Katherine Paterson, author of "Bridge to Terabithia", a brand new guide filled with Codell’s invaluable advice and practical tips for teachers and a fantastic shopping list of must-haves for a teacher’s first classroom.

Here is a little information about the book from the back cover:

"Welcome to Esme Raji Codell's diary of her first year reaching in a Chicago public school. Fresh-mouthed and free-spirited, the irrepressible Madame Esme-as she prefers to be called-does the cha-cha during multiplication tables, roller-skates down the hallways, and puts on rousing performances with at-risk students in the library. While battling bureaucrats, gang members, abusive parents, and her own insecurities, this gifted young woman opens a window into a real-life classroom."

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My interview with Madame Esme:
Me: Welcome to The Eclectic Element-We are extremely happy to have you on! For my first question, I was wondering if you could you tell us why you decided to write this book on your personal accounts as a first year teacher?

Esme: Educating Esme is the real diary I kept during my first year of teaching in the Chicago public schools. I have always kept diaries, but I decided to try to have this particular piece published because I believed It could help start a conversation about urban schools and the profession of teaching. I think there is a widely embraced, antiquated version of what classrooms are like. I hoped that by sharing my experiences, it would get people talking about what works and what doesn't work in a modern classroom.

Me: In your opinion, is too much importance put on high test scores in today's school systems? If so, what affect do you think that pressure is having on children?

Esme: Yes, absolutely, way too much importance. High stakes testing lowers the self esteem of average children and has shanghaied the best practices of teaching. I think high stakes testing is ridiculous, embarrassing, and indicative of a lack of faith in American values. In our country, we are inspired by competition, but we are supposed to believe that we can make changes in our lives based on our will, our inventiveness, and our ability to make the most of our opportunities. America is about individualism, and meeting our personal best. Our schools should reflect that, instill that, but instead, high stakes testing teaches children in this country that there are no second chances. It's like someone wrote elementary school education policy while listening to Eminem's 'Lose Yourself.' High stakes testing tests the teacher's ability to teach a test, and reflects bias towards children with support and other resources at home, and is oblivious toward what we know about child development. Year of No Child Left Behind and other policies that still quack like that duck discourage creative teacher talents from staying in-or even entering-the field, and the children lose out there, too. I am deeply committed to accountability and I am not against assessments, but we need to use those tools to discover how children are doing and how we can support them, not create a system that punishes children for our failures. It's hard to believe we don't have anything better to do, like ending socioeconomic segregation in schools, maybe? Just a thought...

Me: In your classroom, what kinds of activities do you like to implement in your lesson plans that get kids interested in school instead of dreading it? Why do you think those particular activities help kids get higher scores on their homework and tests?

Esme: I treat every child as if they were gifted (even if we are waiting for some children to unwrap their gifts), and I expect that they can and will engage in enrichment activities. I read aloud every single day, and children learn to listen and participate in discussion. I value the arts and integrate them whenever possible. Kids preform well when they exercise critical thinking, and that reflects pretty considerably on work and tests. But children can't think critically when all they are doing is remediation and worksheets...They needs hands-on, cooperative projects; The chance to make mistakes and learn from them. There's always some practice involved in improvement and even in a very scintillating classroom, sometimes kids are b-b-bored(I can't even say it), but kids need to know it's not a TV show, the teacher is not there to entertain them. I think the expectation that they are also responsible for making school interesting helps children join the party.

Me: What goes through your mind when your criticized for your unusual teaching practices by fellow teachers and other employees?

Esme: I'm not usually criticized to my face, just over the internet ha-ha. What goes through my mind is, "Who is saying this to me?" Followed closely by, "Is this true? Is this something I can work on?" I'm actually a very traditional, old-fashioned teacher in practice; Multicultural bend and roller-skating notwithstanding, I probably have more in common with a public school teacher in the 1950's then that I would with a in a modern, progressive setting. I set a lot of boundaries, and try very hard to stick with them, and work hard to help children achieve basic skills. Most of the criticism I receive is because I hate when everybody is trying to do the same thing at the same time. I'm not a Rockette, I'm on the Soul Train. Sometimes that frustrates people who prefer more alignment, and I can appreciate that....If your the sort of co-teacher or administrator that likes to know everyone's on page 42 at 9:47 am on Tuesday, I'm not fun to work with. But in general, my co-workers have known they can depend on me to meet the same objectives. When I think of my co-workers, I don't think critics-I find my fellow teachers to love new ideas, share good ideas, and they join me on the Soul Train line quite a bit themselves, when they aren't feeling threatened or trying to please others.

Me: And last but not least, do you ever question if your doing the right thing when it comes to your classroom, your kids, and your teaching methods?

Esme: Of course! Yes! You Bet! All the time! Every day! I think your supposed to. But there are some things I don't question: I have faith in read aloud that verges on the religious, and I know that students and I are there to teach each other. I also know that every day is a new day and a chance to do better. I'm not the same teacher as I was when I kept the diary that is Educating Esme, but I feel fortunate that I have that window to peer into and learn from. I hope others can find something in that window as well.

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Thank you so much Esme and Julie for allowing me to be apart of this amazing Blog Book Tour!! If your interested in more of Esme and her book Educating Esme: Diary of a First Year Teacher, you can check out her Blog Tour Page for more Q&A from other bloggers like me, pictures of Esme working with her kids, and much more fun and enlightening information.

You can also purchase the book at Amazon.com(Just Click this Link)!

Esme's Bio

A nationally renowned advocate for literacy and literature-based instruction, ESMÉ RAJI CODELL is today “one of the nation's most sought-after voices for empowering teachers" (People Magazine) and a “Superstar of Education” (Scholastic Instructor). She is the recipient of a prestigious Patterson Pageturner Award for spreading the excitement of books in an effective and original way and has been a keynote speaker for the International Reading Association, The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and the American Library Association, and a featured speaker at the National Museum for Women in the Arts. Esme has been interviewed on CBS This Morning, CNN, CSPAN's Book Talk, and NPR. The author of "How to Get Your Child to Love Reading" as well as numerous award-winning books for children, Esmé lives with her husband and son in Chicago, where she spent many years as an educator in Chicago public schools and now runs the popular children's literature web site PlanetEsme, and the unique literary salon, The PlanetEsme Bookroom.

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