One thing I hear from a lot of those teachers is, “Rafe, thank you for reminding me to be me.Thank you for telling me it’s OK to be myself.” Because a lot of people are telling the teachernot to be yourself. That we’re all supposed to be exactly the same. We’re not. In a country thatsays it’s supposed to celebrate diversity, we’re not! And that’s what I want those burned-outteachers to remember. Be yourself. You’re valuable, you’re important, and you’re making adifference, even though maybe you’re in a school that doesn’t appreciate what you’re doing. It’sa thankless job, it really is. But when you do it well, it’s a fun job. Sometimes you hit a home runand it’s great.
What would you say your essential theory behind teaching is?
My essential theory is this: Number one, we’re role models. We have to be the people we wantthe kids to be. If I want my kids to be nice, which I do
nice, but to
nice – then I’vegot to be the nicest guy they’ve ever met. So my essential theory is, you gotta be the person thatyou want the kids to be. And as a parent, if you’re a parent watching television all day and tellingyour kid, “Go in your bedroom and read,” it’s not gonna happen. Now, I’ve raised four children,and they’re all voracious readers, but they were raised in a home where I read every night, all thetime. That’s why they read! You have to set that example.
Can you describe your classroom and what makes it such an effective learningenvironment?
One crucial aspect to the classroom
─and this is why I really encourage teachers to stay put, i
f they can
─the absolute most important force in my classroom are my former students who come
back and visit all the time. I must have 10 to 20 former students visit every day. Every day! Andthose kids tell my current students, “You oughta listen to Rafe. He changed my life.” That’s anincredibly powerful force in my classroom, it’s incredible. The way I explain it is: If you everwatch a cooking channel, and they’re making chicken, they show you a wonderful chicken dishand they say, “Doesn’t that look good.” They show you the finished product. The effect issimilar when you have kids who come back to your room, kids who speak Spanish orVietnamese or Korean and who are now going to Berkeley. My 5th graders see that and feel sucha sense of hope and empowerment.Another thing I like to stress about the way my classroom works: The idea that kids don’t likeschool is a myth. Kids love school when it’s fun and interesting. They don’t like school when it’sboring. But you let them do things that are relevant, like play in a rock band, as we do in myclasses, and capture their imagination. I think that’s what people see in my classroom
great energy level, an atmosphere of warmth and humor and hard work all mixed together.
So building experience is crucial for teachers?
Yes, and this is very important to me. I speak all over the country, and I meet so many greatyoung teachers, and I’m trying to show them that I’m a truly ordinary guy, but because I stuck with it and persevered, I got good at it. Not because of talent, but because of experience! AndI’m really trying to encourage a lot of young teachers to
and stick with it and get throughthose tough times because there are better times ahead if they can do so.