A once-in-a-lifetime educator, Rafe Esquith may be one of the most inspiring teachers in America. He’s been called “a modern day Thoreau” by Newsday, “a genius and a saint” by The New York Times, and “the most interesting and influential classroom teacher in the country” by The Washington Post. For the past two decades, Esquith has taught fifth graders at a public school in a Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by guns, gangs, and violence. His exceptional classroom at Hobart Elementary — known simply as Room 56 — is unlike any other in the country.
Esquith’s students are mostly immigrants or children of immigrants, living in poverty and learning English as a second language. Yet under his tutelage, they voluntarily come to class at 6:30 AM and often stay until 5:00 PM. They learn math, reading, and science — but they also play Vivaldi, perform Shakespeare, often score in the top one percent on standardized tests, and go on to attend the best universities. For his near-heroic work, Esquith is the only teacher to be awarded the President’s National Medal of the Arts.
He has received the National Teacher of the Year Award and won accolades from Oprah, Queen Elizabeth, and the Dalai Lama. He’s written four books, including his most recent, Real Talk for Real Teachers. His other books include Teach like Your Hair’s on Fire, There Are No Shortcuts, and Lighting Their Fires. Esquith has also been featured, along with his students, in the PBS documentary The Hobart Shakespeareans. Esquith insists all of us make students our top priority.