TEACHER PROFILE: RAFE ESQUITH
by Ruth Eckles
In the audience tonight at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, North Carolina, you'll find seasoned and fledgling teachers, parents who care about education, and the just plain curious. Shakespeare is being performed here this evening, but from where I sit, I see microphones and amplifiers, an electric bass, a Fender Stratocaster guitar, and a full drum kit, all at the ready. Off to the side, a well-behaved group of grade-schoolers--the stars of this evening's show--sits on the floor.
Kids, guitars and the Bard? Yes. We're here tonight to meet a world-famous, inner-city teacher who has made it part of his life's work to teach elementary school students to perform Shakespeare that is reputed to make audiences weep. Rafé Esquith leads The Hobart Shakespeareans, a traveling group of his fifth graders, on tour from Room 56 at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles. And by the time these pint-sized Shakespeareans are ready to recite and rock and roll, it is standing room only.
Esquith is here to give a short talk on his recently published second book, Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56, a follow-up to There Are No Shortcuts, published in 2003. Both books focus on Esquith's teaching experiences, his unique classroom persona, and his views on today's elementary classroom culture. However, Esquith makes it clear that his students, not he, will take center stage this evening. They certainly do.
Sandwiched between sensitively and humorously done Shakespeare excerpts, The Hobart Shakespeareans play and sing spot-on versions of modern rock/pop songs by U2, R.E.M., Nirvana, Radiohead, and the Beatles. The emotional lyrics blend seamlessly with the Shakespearean themes, and the performance is made complete wiht choreography. Audience members, visibly moved, exchange glances. This is not your average kid's performance. This is extraordinary.
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