Educating Esmé

Esmé Raji Codell

Educating Esme

Since your writer is even now embroiled in classes herself, she thought it not inappropriate to review a book dealing with the education process. This month's offering, Educating Esmé, is subtitled "Diary of a Teacher's First Year," and deals with just that, the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of a young instructor in her first year of teaching (fifth grade) in the Chicago Public School system. One of her major trials is an insensitive boor of a principal, Mr. Turner, while her tribulations include breaking up playground fights and having things stolen from her classroom. Esmé sticks with teaching, however, because the kids make it all up for her; they are her triumphs.

"We had our Christmas assembly. It was supposed to be an international theme, so I had my kids do a 'Cajun Christmas.' I chose a zydeco song, in French, which, translated, goes something like 'My darling, my dear, you little flirt, nobody does it like you do.' It had nothing to do with Christmas, but based on the amount of idiocy I've contended with, I surmised that nobody would notice.

I was ambitious in the choreography of the dance routine. It had many complicated parts, but under the threat of death and homework my thirty-one charges learned them meticulously, baring their teeth in a mandatory smile all the way. I'm exaggerating; I know they kind of enjoyed the rehearsals, the anticipation of performance and success. They know I would never let them fail. That's why they do what I ask, no matter how much they complain.

I had the children make their own costumes in class. All the boys and some of the girls were going to be alligators from the bayou and would dance with girls in red dresses with poinsettias in their hair. Christmas colors, red and green, get it? Meanwhile, a large, twinkling Christmas tree would sway in the background.

I gave Vanessa, lolloping and clumsy, the special task of introducing our festive fiasco. The line was 'Here come the good times, Cajun style!,' which she said the first multitude of times as 'Here come the good times, Asian style!' This caused me a lot of chagrin, thinking then that people would mistake our alligators for Godzillas. I tried to impress upon her the importance of word choice in this case, to which she suggested I assign another girl to the job. I declined, insisting nobody could do it as well as she could, if only this small detail could be perfected. She sighed and rehearsed, evolving into 'Here come the good times, Haitian style!' and then into the correct 'Cajun style!' under the mercy of our Maker.

During practices, the beams beneath the stage, well, I could see them buckling under the weight of 1,500 jumping pounds. I laughed to myself, imagining the scene of the entire stage being smashed, children cracking through the plastic floor so ungenerously afforded them, parents shrieking and knocking each other over in the path of rescue, Mr. Turner and his girlish look of terror – the one he gets whenever anyone mentions litigation. I laughed to myself, vowing to roll with the punches, to enjoy all catastrophes upon their arrival either in reality or in my imagination.

Reality, though, was a success! My class was the most attractive, most festive, most ambitious, most original, and nosiest. They were the most smiling, most intricate, most cooperative. They made me proud. They made themselves proud."

Esmé is the sort of teacher I wish I could have had as a child the whole time I was in school. This chronicle of her first year will make you laugh, may make you cry, and will leave you with a profound feeling of gratitude, that such gifted and energetic teachers actually exist. Be sure to read all about it!

Copyright © 2003, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.