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Originally published Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 4:06 AM

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‘Real Talk for Real Teachers’: hope for teaching’s front lines

Rafe Esquith’s “Real Talk for Real Teachers” is a realistic but hopeful message for teachers worn out by bureaucratic interference and waves of standardized testing.

The Washington Post

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“Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: ‘No Retreat, No Surrender!’ ”

by Rafe Esquith

Viking, 319 pp., $26.95

Rafe Esquith’s “Real Talk for Real Teachers” is a perfect antidote for teachers demoralized by bureaucratic interference and the testing mania. Esquith is no self-appointed guru sitting in some cubicle in a think tank or a state department of education. For the past 24 years, he has taught fifth grade at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles, and that classroom experience with all its joy and pain inform the entire book.

Each of the 25 chapters consists of vignettes from Esquith’s experiences, followed by bulleted bits of advice. Esquith is an idealist who believes that teachers can change lives, but he is also a pragmatist who gives advice on how to play the game in the face of bureaucratic interference. Though he despises high-stakes testing, he accepts that it is here and advises how to prepare kids for state exams and still develop critical thinking and love of learning.

Esquith’s chapter titled “Leave Some Children Behind” should be required reading for policymakers and school administrators. Teachers in this country, as many of my students who come from schools in Africa and Asia have told me, simply do too much for their students, creating in them a sense of entitlement that will not serve them well once they leave the shelter of school.

As much as I agreed with Esquith’s advice, I felt that “Real Talk for Real Teachers” would have made a stronger impact had it been cut in half. Many of the vignettes go on too long and make for tedious reading. Problems aside, Esquith’s is a voice from the real world of schools that should resonate deeply with today’s teachers.

Patrick Welsh can be reached at

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