Real Talk with Rafe Esquith: Doing Good

Rafe Esquith on teaching kids the value of kindness and doing good deeds for their own sake.

By Rafe Esquith
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Meet the Author Rafe Esquith has taught at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles for more than 25 years.

He is the author of Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, There Are No Shortcuts, and  his newest book is Real Talk for Real Teachers. He is the only teacher to have been awarded the National Medal of Arts.

To find out more, go to


Doing Good, Quietly

Recently, I spoke to a fabulous group of teachers in Delaware. They were especially proud that by working together, the students, teachers, and administrators had constructed the tallest Lego tower in history. It was 112 feet tall and had more than 500,000 bricks. The community was buzzing because their tower earned them a spot in Guinness World Records.

Certainly, the tower should be a source of pride. It represents the kind of hard work, community spirit, and ingenuity that inspires everyone involved. It is no wonder that the theme of their year was to go higher.

We can go higher still, and this holiday season affords you and your students an opportunity to do just that.

Many schools require students to perform community service. Kids volunteer to tutor at a school, clean up graffiti, or visit the elderly. These acts of charity fulfill a school obligation, and the students get a certificate giving them the proper credit to pass a class or graduate.

However, when students receive credit for doing good deeds, it really isn’t community service. Doing good work for recognition diminishes what can be a valuable lesson. Of course, doing something is better than doing nothing, but like those kids who built the tower, we can aim higher.

It’s great to accomplish things publicly, but it might be even more amazing to reach lofty heights quietly. You can pass on this message to kids by sharing the story of a mysterious rabbi who lived in a small village. Every Friday night, the rabbi disappeared after the Sabbath service, and this caused the villagers to gossip. Some of them thought he had a girlfriend. Others thought he might be doing something evil. Still more community members surmised the rabbi went up to heaven to speak with God.

One precocious child secretly followed the rabbi. He was shocked to discover the rabbi putting on old clothing and then chopping wood, an act expressly forbidden on the Jewish Sabbath. The rabbi then went to a tiny hut in the middle of the woods where a sick old woman lived. The rabbi built her a fire and prepared food for her, actions strictly against their faith on the day of rest. In disguise as a workman, the rabbi assured the woman not to worry because the rabbi would never find out. The old woman never knew who her benefactor was.

The following day, the village children asked their precocious friend if the rabbi went up to heaven. The boy answered, “Even higher.”

After telling this story to your students, discuss what you can do to make the world better. Develop a project that no one knows about. But don’t call the press, post the good deed on Facebook, or notify Guinness. Have the kids quietly go about their business. No one will ever know about their contributions to make the world a little better. By doing community service invisibly, they will have soared beyond any certificate. The joy they will feel will inspire them as human beings to achieve a generosity of spirit that no tape measure will ever be able to quantify. And that incalculable accomplishment is what inspires our students to go even higher. 


Click Here to Subscribe to Instructor Magazine

Instructor Cover

Instructor Magazine

Six issues per year filled with practical, fun, teacher-tested ideas for your classroom. Keep up with classroom trends, get expert teaching tips, and find dozens of resources in every issue.