Educating ESME Comprehensive Reflection
Every teacher’s worst nightmare – that is the setting to which Madame (whatever you do don’t call her Mrs. ) Esme Raji Codell stepped into as her first job fresh out of college. In this sink or swim world Esme, unknowingly, became a lifeguard to thirty youngsters, as she seemed the only one who could protect the children from the rough waters that are inner city Chicago. Through studying her very candid and personal diary, I am awe stricken by her extraordinary display of pedagogy as she exemplifies what it truly means to be a teacher.
Esme’s proficiency in her dealings with situations surrounding equity, creating a safe, relaxed and positive classroom environment, expectations as a teacher, gender, diversity learning, multicultural competence and accommodation are, at times, straight out of a teacher’s workshop. Some might argue with her protocol, as she is both sharp-tongued and downright stubborn, but none can call to question her motive or incapacity for complacency.
As every teacher goes into the workplace, first year, or twenty-fifth, and despite any subconscious fear you might possess of the hideous class you might be challenged to educate, there is always a certain comfort in knowing that, regardless the case, you have the support of your administration to uphold most any rational expectation you place on your students. As the school year drew near, I’m sure this was the case even for Madame Esme, as she seemed eager to start her first year of teaching. She set her expectations high in all aspects and from day one seemed determined to see her students achieve accordingly.
She maintained her ideals throughout the year, though, it becomes more evident that her superiors might not share such idealistic values. No case more true than is seen on May 4th. After trying to reach a male student, B. B. , who seems to be having behavioral problems related to his home life, Esme finds herself separating her student from a “big pounding fight on the playground” (Codell, 1999). In the aftermath which followed, Esme receives a tongue lashing from B. B. in which he directly calls her a bitch. Outraged, Codell storms into the office of her incompetent principal, Mr.
Turner, and continues to share with him her disgust of the issue. Full of remarks which any rational person would have left to thought, she gladly gave to Mr. Turner in words. Summoned up, her venting stood strongly on the fact that she didn’t get paid to be called names of that sort, and she both didn’t have to, and wouldn’t tolerate such. Reasonable… justified… maybe, maybe not? All the same, nothing in my (and hopefully anyone else’s) study of education could have prepared me, or apparently her, for his unprecedentedly repulsive response. “You don’t understand.
They’re black… It’s just the way black people are. The black child is different. They deal with so much. Drugs, gangs…” (Codell, 1999). How can one articulate the hopelessness of such a situation? I am deeply saddened at the thought that this is based on the account of a real conversation, which took place at a real school, concerning the expectations of real kids. Profound knowledge directly linked to the situation can be found in the Pygmalion Study (Rosenthal, 1992) where student achievement was found to be directly proportional to the expectations placed on them by teachers and administrators.
Knowing that this was the standard set for students school wide, one may only speculate at the vast number of children who fell victim to such complacency and negativity. As I am only able to imagine how detrimental it must have been to Esme’s moral in that moment to hear such foulness reign down from your superior, I commend her in the highest fashion for the manner in which she handled herself before him. I only hope that I have the courage to stand so boldly should I find myself under such circumstances. The months of April and May seem to be full of touching moments in Madame Esme’s first year.
I found myself rather moved in taking stance from an omnipresent perspective. On tax day, Codell finds herself frustrated with Latoya, a young black girl in her class, seeing as it was the fourth consecutive day she had been a half hour late (Codell, 1999). Bound by her own pledge to professionalism in educating the kids she is so blessed to have, Madame shows sign that she might possess human qualities, after all, when she admits that she was inclined to yell at Latoya as she was becoming frustrated on having to repeat herself, consecutively.
However, Esme is able to withhold her wit and refrains from doing so as she has vowed to talk and listen privately, as of late. Upon speaking with the student alone in the hall, Latoya calmly informs her that “they are in the shelter this week and [she] must drop her little sister off and take the train over… it takes longer than [expected]” (Codell, 1999). Stepping back a moment to gain perspective, these are fifth graders. The same one where you look forward to daily recess freshly removed from the ideas that the opposite sex have ‘coodies’ and light up sneakers are cool.
Remember? Oh, yeah! And you walk your sister to drop her off in the mornings before school and then jump on the inner-city Chicago train to get to school, yourself. As a teacher, you’re taught that your students will live very different lives and of the necessity to make accommodations accordingly. Students’ backgrounds cover a vast spectrum, and in order to achieve equity in your classroom, you must accommodate these students and cater to their specific needs so that, they too, have an opportunity to be successful.
Latoya’s story, in particular, strikes me a little too close for comfort. In fact, it is unsettling to know that these situations are not the exception in such areas, but can be found, all too, commonly when the teacher takes a closer look. Is it because, like many, my childhood was so very contrasting to what you find, time and again, throughout the diary? I was pleased with the mild temperament in which Esme handled the situation. She made it clear that Latoya had done a good thing and that she appreciated it, followed by a means of accounting for any work that she might have missed.
I find it especially significant that she reflected clearly reflected on the matter, and how close she had come to scolding the student who in all actuality, deserved praise. “I still burned with shame at the thought of what I almost said and at all the occasions I have spoken harshly” (Codell, 1999). These are words which should be heard as an echo in the minds of every teacher following his or her sharp tongue. As a boy, myself, I will attest based on my personal account that boys are in crisis.
Though, I was clearly not in a state of mind to fathom it at the time, I (and most other boys alike) struggled with the restraints of public school. Sitting in a desk for an hour or so at a time with, but, five minutes to use up all of my energy in the hallways before my next bound session was rough to say the least. It is trying on a boy’s soul. Comprehending what the teacher is scribing on the board is the least of your worries, so paper folded in some fashion or another becomes a common means of passing time. Other days, it’s the kid sitting next to you.
Meanwhile, you, likely those around you, are missing out on the entire point of being there – education. Esme seemed to have mastery understanding of this early on whether she fully knew the science behind it, or not. Though, she makes just a small note, a few words says it all. In what appeared to be Esme, merely, jotting down a few random observations for her diaries’ sake she hit on something rather insightful. “June 4th… Kyle performs better in math if I let him stand on his head whenever he wants. ” (Codell, 1999). Now what does this mean?
The fact of the matter is, when you let boys get their raw physical energy out they are significantly more receptive to the idea of sitting at a desk and learning, as well as more proficient in doing so (Slocumb, 2004). Girls learning styles and general behavior are more in tune with the establishment of the public school system, when compared to boys. These are gender specific issues that you must be aware of in the classroom. As anyone who has ever been through grade school knows, being different can create a problem for you among peers, and a grand one at that.
Whether that difference be the way you dress, your intelligence, speech patterns, race, ethnicity, customs, physical trait, the way you act or any of the other items which fall into such an infinite classification, that difference is enough to land you on the wrong end of someone’s jokes. While, we have learned that regardless of their likeness, there are as many differences within groups of people as can be found between one another. Thus, there are no real grounds to single anyone out under the premise that they are different.
However, this is a concept far, too, fetched for fifth graders… usually. Early on in the year, September 27th, Madame Esme read the story The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes to her class. The plot of the tale is about a little girl who claims to have one hundred dresses, despite wearing the same one to school every day. After being teased, endlessly, the poor girl moves away. Then her peers come to find that she truly does own a beautiful hundred dresses like she had said… one hundred drawings of dresses.
The story is significant because following its closure, Ashworth, a boy in class stood up and whispered to Madame that he had something to share with the class. Esme speaks aloud to the class to give him their attention, as expected; then, she adds “I hope you will keep in mind The Hundred Dresses when he tells you. ” Stuttering, Ashworth gets out “I… I only have nine and a half fingers. Please don’t tease me about it. ” (Codell, 1999). In her journal, Codell is quoted in describing the moment as macabre (Codell, 1999).
After the silence which she captures eloquently, students speak out to defend him one after another with claims that they’ll kick anyone’s ass who says something. If you’ve ever witnessed someone publicly disclosing something truly personal about themselves such as this before, then perhaps you can grasp what a spectacular moment this must have been. As a teacher, you know this is a victory. This is one of those extraordinary moments that pay back to the nth degree, but can’t be found via pay stub on Friday. As a teacher, there’s not much that you can do here. This is, in a way, above you.
You don’t create these moments, they happen. You do, however, create a safe, positive, comfortable environment where the students can relax and learn. Madame monitored the situation as best she could in the moment, but the true credit here, she began earning the first day when the students walked in. She earns it daily with her greeting, “Trouble Basket”, and word exercises as the students enter her classroom. Further, she is helping to break down the walls between individuals and helping them to come forth with their problems, all via her classroom environment.
While we have gathered that we are all so, very, different in our many personal traits and attributes, gender, and even the background that we come from, the same holds true for our learning styles in the classroom. If there is any single thing which Madame Esme might have gotten most right, it must be her diversity in teaching styles. This is so intrinsically related to many principles of teaching associated with differences. Students learn in different ways just as they do all others things differently and to varying degrees from one another.
Esme has been deemed crazy over the course of the year for her outrageous methods including the way she dresses, herself, at times. In a list from June ninth, “… we made light-up quiz games… put on shadow puppet shows… built an accurate castle… had a bubble festival… made sushi… made video commercials… had a book character masquerade party… went to an outdoor Beethoven concert…” (Codell, 1999). The previous is even an incomplete list of the interesting lessons she remembers doing. It doesn’t include any of the larger activities which she discussed in depth, over the course of her diary.
The point is that the more diverse your teaching techniques, the more effective you are as a teacher. This is evident in the beginning of the same journal entry in which Esme notes that the results from her kids Iowa reading and math scores were the best in the school and virtually every student jumped at least one year in their performance from previous tests (Codell, 1999). What else do you say to this? Cliche as it may seem, “talk is cheap. ” These results explain it all, as they are a testament to the effectiveness of diversity teaching and learning methods.
In evaluating Madame Esme Raji Codell, one must understand that any findings would be incomplete so long as they didn’t include accreditation for her work regarding multicultural competence. In this country, we have had a real problem accommodating cultures other than our own. Oh, how quickly we forget that our nation was started by a diverse group whom had all made the voyage to the new land from their parent countries, alike. Over the last few hundred years, America developed foul sense of self pride which demanded others become like us. When in all actuality, it would be impossible to concretely define what we are.
Thus, the justly concept of multicultural pluralism and multicultural competence have since been born. Esme, the poster child for such innovative practices, exemplifies everything which the terms stand for. Madame wore a sari, a type of scarf, given as a gift to her by a student from another country (one of three) without much more thought than to show her gratitude, it seemed (Codell, 1999). The next day, she had four girls waiting on her, all dressed in customary fashion from the native land, seemingly inspired by the window of opportunity Codell had given them the day prior.
In another instance, she allowed her female student to perform a cultural dance, which the student began without asking during class. Such was allowed. It was merely the girl looking to express herself and in the process everyone else enjoyed it. When studying the Mexican-American War Madame brought in a native Hipic man to lecture on Mexico’s perspective of the war. This is multicultural competence. I commend her for, in the midst of her diversity teaching and learning styles, she includes these fine principles, which in turn, encourages cultural pluralism and combats assimilation of culturally diverse students.
They are more fluently understood for their practices and, consequently, increasingly accepted among fellow students. In studying this diary… this epic monologue… this compilation of pedagogy… I wonder now, What do you conclude from this? What is the one thing that you can take with you from this? It’s an answer so vast that it cannot be defined in this, mere, manuscript. What is my conclusion you ask? My conclusion is this: what more might I add that Madame Esme Raji Codell has not already taught us? In my eyes, she is the model for twenty-first century teachers in America. She is motivated to educate, not just teach.
She is determined to succeed, rather than participate. She strives to make a difference, rather than be a part of the problem. And, may God have mercy on the incompetent individual who stands in her way. These dispositions compiled with a hunger for knowledge, an inclination to reflect, a conscience to admit when wrong, and a sense of humor to laugh about it at the end of the day are the ingredients for success in the teaching profession. Such are the characteristics of a fine fifth grade teacher by the name of Madame Esme and such are the very reasons why her name will not be forgotten.