Esme Raji Codell

Educating Esme

  • 29-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 3 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English instructor with a Master's degree in English
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Educating Esme Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 29-page guide for “Educating Esme” by Esme Raji Codell includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 3 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Low Educational Expectations Due to Systemic Racism and Domestic Abuse and Its Negative Impact on Student Learning.

Plot Summary

Esme Raji Codell, author of Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year, uses her memoir to recount lessons imparted and lessons learned during her year teaching fifth grade at an inner-city Chicago public school. Codell, who prefers to go by the self-applied moniker Madame Esme, is both challenged and challenging in this setting. Her irreverent humor, passion for teaching, and commitment to her values, regardless of the outcome, make the memoir a lively and heartfelt read.

The thirty-one students in her charge lead lives full of insecurity and danger. Abusive homes and neglectful caregivers add to the challenge of teaching. Esme quickly finds herself enmeshed in the complications that her students face outside of the classroom. Language and cultural barriers make some students reluctant to participate at first, while other students cope with stress via theft, violence or binge eating.

Esme offers learning—and literature, especially—as an antidote to the troubles these students face. Together, they read novel after novel, stage plays, take field trips, and make costumes. Students discover their own leadership capabilities as they direct or act in skits, lead book discussion, and moderate peer mediation.

The problems do not disappear, however. Students bring guns to school. They steal from teachers and one another. Some of them turn to Esme for comfort, while others turn away. Esme comes to see that she cannot be a savior. She can, however, be a sounding board at times, and if not that, then she can be a witness.

Despite regular arguments with the administration, along with troubling parent teacher conferences, Esme manages to instill a love of learning and books in her students. Test scores reveal real progress for the class as a whole and some of the struggling students make remarkable progress. Though they don’t leave her care as perfect students leading safe lives, they end the year feeling both well-educated and well-loved.

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Part 1