Real Talk for Real Teachers by Rafe Esquith (New York: Viking, 2013. 316 pp).

Rafe Esquith has taught at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles for more than twenty-five years. He is the only teacher to have been awarded the president’s National Medal of the Arts. His many other honors and awards include the American Teacher Award, Parents magazine’s As You Grow Award, Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award, the Compassion in Action Award from the Dalai Lama, Kennedy Center / Stephen Sondehim Inspirational Teacher Award, People magazine’s Hereos Among Us Award, and made a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth.

Veteran Versus Amateur

I’ve been teaching since 2007, and with that comes a sense of, well, jadedness. Once you’ve been to more faculty meetings than you care to remember, a certain amount of dread sets in. Esquith, in his book Real Talk for Real Teachers, explains that there’s definitely a difference between the veteran and the amateur, something both valid and needed to be told. The amateur sees everything through rose-colored glasses, but even after a few years of teaching, a certain level of waning passion exists.

“You’ve been teaching at least five years. You dread professional development meetings. They are often geared toward new teachers; worse, the meetings are spent repeating things you’ve heard a dozen times before. You’re tired, and you are upset that the passion you once felt for the classroom is waning” (141).

With that waning passion for the classroom comes a lack of trust in literature about the classroom. Idealistic nonsense is present in book after book, which is why I was extremely skeptical about Real Talk for Real Teachers. But, I will admit, Esqutih has a certain amount of humor and candidness that is refreshing.


I believe the success what Esquith has received as a teacher is mainly due to the fact that he can tell a story, which is evident in the book. Only the best teachers can teach through stories. He helps teachers fight bitterness through candid story telling and straightforward guidance.

“All students must be given an opportunity to learn and have fun. Some will and some won’t, but most teachers love to teach. The bitterness comes when our efforts are pointless. If you are going to do something extra, such as stay after school to tutor a child in trouble or spend a Saturday afternoon with the kids at an art museum, know that you are likely to have one of three outcomes” (147).

The outcomes that he describes are that the student might grow from your efforts and show appreciation, might grow and show no appreciation, or you completely fail. I have personally seen all three, but the second is the most common. But, what Esquith does is explain that all three are jumping points for becoming a master teacher. Growth is something that can always be present, as long as you’re willing to grow from where you are and be realistic about where you are as a teacher.

Answers to Questions

Rafe also answers questions and talks about things that all teachers struggle with: administration, mandated testing, students who have parents who don’t care about their education. He talks about these things, things that every teacher has on their mind, but rarely has the time to talk about. While I was skeptical about the book, it turns out Real Talk for Real Teachers was quite the good read, with some realistic advice within.

3.5 out of 5

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