If you ask ten people to characterize America's educational system, more than likely you'll hear that what's broken is usually the teachers. It's the unkindest cut for an educator to hear. With Educating Esme, Codell creates a double-edged sword for public perusal.
Presenting, in a diary format, the recollections of her first year of teaching, Codell accurately depicts a gutsy, energetic newcomer beginning her first year at a new school. She chronicles the ideas she develops to inspire her fifth graders, including Connie Porter Day to celebrate Abby of American Girl fame; a Fairy Tale Festival; and a student-led Storytellers Workshop. Her students must make deposits in the Trouble Basket before entering class, and they take turns in a Time Travel Box full of books. Codell, however, mentions all of these activities and lessons as asides to prove the point that she has had to fight hard against a system that doesn't believe her students are capable; she is just as piercing in depicting the worst of what is wrong with education. The principal and vice-principal at her school are so stereotypical in their ineffectiveness they are almost unbelievable; to anyone who has been in the classroom, however, they are only too familiar, ignoring Esme's successes while obsessing about students calling her Madame Esme instead of Miss Codell. In the Epilogue, Codell tells of being in a different school the next year, one where the principal appreciates everything she does and the students aren't as weighted down with personal baggage. Yet, Codell admits she is not as happy as during her first year. And it is this unflinching portrayal of herself that makes Codell's story one worth reading.
Jamie Whitfield's teaching career spans 20 years and counting.