By Megan Harlan
Updated April 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

When Codell started teaching at an inner-city Chicago public school three years ago, gangs attacked her class, and her own students stabbed a substitute with a pencil. But the most trying challenges faced by “Madame Esme” — as the 24-year-old insisted her fifth graders call her — were from administrators who questioned her unconventional techniques (such as creating a historical “time machine” from an old refrigerator) even after she sharply improved her kids’ standardized test scores and won a prestigious teaching award. In Educating Emse Codell prettifies nothing about her frenetic, often frustrating first year. But the imagination and irreverent wit she brought to education make this bristling journal well worth reading. A-