In a Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by poverty and violence, there is an exceptional public school classroom called Room 56. The fifth-graders inside are either immigrants or children of immigrants; most live in poverty and few speak English as a first language. They also play Vivaldi, perform unabridged plays by Shakespeare, and go on to attend the finest universities in the country. Rafe Esquith is the teacher who helps them achieve these accomplishments.
In this book, Esquith gives any teacher and parent the tips, techniques, exercises, innovations, and visions that have made him one of the most celebrated teachers in the world. Instead of ruling with an iron fist, Esquith asks his ten-year-old students to "be nice and work hard," and encourages them to embrace personal codes of behavior. His students voluntarily come to school at 6:30 A.M. and stay well after five; they come during vacations too. They learn to handle money with an in-class economic system. They read great literature, tackle algebra, take field trips all over the world, and play baseball and rock 'n' roll. Above all, the students in Room 56 are treated with respect and given license to engage in the world of ideas.
Mediocrity has no place in Room 56, and the children in it dare to defy society's expectations. This is their story. It is a strange feeling to write this book. I am painfully aware that I am not superhuman. I do the same job as thousands of other dedicated teachers who try to make a difference. Like all real teachers, I fail constantly. I don't get enough sleep. I lie awake in the early-morning hours, agonizing over a kid I was unable to reach. Being a teacher can be painful.