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Things I Learned in Shakespeare Club

Those of you who know me know this: I have a Shakespeare problem. Well, maybe more of an obsession than a problem. In fact, the only problem is that the world does not have enough Shakespeare-related things in it! As much as I do consider myself a teacher with very contemporary methods and an eye to the future, I also look forward to teaching Shakespearean texts each year with the anticipation of a child before a birthday party. I love the stories. I love the language! I love the drama!! SHAKESPEARE!!!

…Like I said, I have a problem. But the point of this story is how I have proudly transferred this problem to the next generation: a very satisfying accomplishment. After our Romeo and Juliet unit this year, a small group of my sixth hour sophomores were sad that it was over. They half-jokingly requested that I set aside one day a week during our enhancement (RtI) period to preside over a Shakespeare club so that we could act out more Shakespearean plays together. I narrowed my eyes momentarily as I attempted to discern if this was some type of crude joke. My heart fluttered. As it turns out, it was an earnest request. Shakespeare Club was formed in the next 30 seconds with my single word response: “Done.”

 To my great delight, Mr. M agreed to join me in the teaching/ play/ performance/ monitoring of Shakespeare Club. I gathered a list of interested parties (about 12 students), and sent each one a sealed invitation, anonymously delivered during lunch or via friends:

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We started with Macbeth, reading from the No Fear Shakespeare text for maximum accessibility during our brief time each week. Before each meeting, I previewed the section so that I could explain and narrate as needed while student actors milled about. I also created index card nametags with brief descriptors for each character that would be speaking (such as “Lady Macbeth – Straight-up Crazy” or “Donalbain – Duncan’s other son”), so that we could keep straight who was playing whom. Each week, students could select a part to read and take part in the action. All were welcome. Overjoyed but still dubious, I thought it might last two weeks at best.

That, however, was not the case. We eventually had pretty consistent attendance of over twenty kids who came each week to read Macbeth. We got T-shirts made. We also held a brief discussion of the play and had a “Monologue-Off” where both teachers and students prepared original-language Shakespearean monologues to perform for the group. We rewarded these actors with copies of Shakespearean texts that I was able to pick up at Half Price Books for a steal. Shakespeare Club was pretty darn awesome, and it’s something I hope I can take with me into future years of teaching, because–in my humble opinion–there are more kids out there who need to get irreversibly hooked on Shakespeare.

10 Things I learned in Shakespeare Club

1. Shakespeare attracts a great mix of kids–spotlight hoggers, Ivy league aspirers, fun lovers, romantics, literature heads, misfits, and kids who just like to pretend that they have swords.

2. Shakespeare Club is actually an acronym (C.L.U.B) for Come Learn Ur Bard.

3. Even kids who aren’t confident inhabiting themselves can bravely inhabit a Shakespearean role.

4. Don’t take advice from witches.

5. Caliban’s hunched, bumpy back can be crafted by shoving plastic cups beneath one’s shirt.

6. There actually is such a thing as a freshman who will independently memorize and then perform Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy flawlessly for absolutely no other reason than having the opportunity to do it.

7. Cool t-shirts are one of the best ways to raise awareness for a niche academic club. (Thank you, CustomInk.)

8. Students love to cheer for each other.

9. Students get important things from reading modernized Shakespeare. They also get important things from working with the original language.

10. Shakespeare continues to “amaze indeed the very faculties of eyes and ears,” even on Fridays, at the end of the day, amidst a group of squirrely 14-18 year olds.

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Does anybody else out there have a Shakespeare Club for high school students? When and how do you run it? Does anybody want to start a ring of Shakespeare Clubs that can communicate online and/or occasionally meet in person to attend plays and such? What do you think? Like the Universe as Text Facebook page to start the conversation! 🙂

No Year Like a First Year

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Some years come with more of a sense of renewal and ceremony than others, and this past year was a big one for me.

The end of my first year at PWHS actually begins with a look back to my previous teaching position at SFHS. I was honored to be an invitee once again to the Top Ten celebration at Sheboygan Falls, where high achieving students speak about their most influential teachers. (You may remember my posts about the memorable students who invited me last year and the year before that.) This was a really special occasion, since I got to catch up with a brilliant former student and his family. This particular student was one whom I continued to support this year in his college recommendations, and the one who helped me start Shakespeare Club last year. The degree to which this kid understands me was evident from his send off gift–the collection of sharks and flowers that you see in the collage above. I was truly touched by his speech (you can read it here), which reminded me that sometimes the students who are most impacted by an English teacher are the ones who come into their English class dead set against it. This particular student was captured not at first by my love of literature, but by my strange infatuation with sharks and satirical running commentary. This same young man informed me that one of his most recent purchases included Plato’s The Republic. For this reason, ladies and gentlemen, I say, “Whatever it takes,” with a smile of pride and confidence in this young man’s bright future, not only as an engineer-to-be, but as a lifelong reader and writer.

Thinking back to my three years at SFHS and the relationships that I was able to build with students and colleagues make me all the more excited for the years ahead at Port Washington High School. I’ve already started to build some bonds (and the ever-important sense of lore) with many students. I’m particularly grateful to my photography students, for supporting me in my interim art teaching apprenticeship, as we made new discoveries in the darkroom together. One of my students was sweet enough to give me the vintage camera that you see above, a spectacular Kodak Pony 135 from the 1950’s, as a thank you gift, accompanied by an earnest hug. My AP Literature and Composition students were also excited, eager participants in the journey of my first year in the community, willing to come along with whatever difficult or strange approach I devised to engage them in English canonical and contemporary works. Every time I pushed them in their writing skills, they adapted, relishing the work of getting better, sharper, and more precise. My Communications III students, by contrast, were not a highly literary bunch. But one of my favorite moments of the year came when a rough-around-the-edges junior, wearing a size large hunting jacket, turned to me and said, “Ms. H., I really think I’ve gotten better at writing this year. It’s weird, but… I kinda like it now.”

I am thankful to the members of my department who welcomed me with friendship and support. They made it easy to transition and call a new high school “home.”

As I look forward to next year, I’m filled with excitement as I think about building the AP Literature and Composition program even more, forming new bonds with students, and spreading my appreciation both of literature and of sharks to more and more young people.

This is what I adore about teaching:

Every year is a new year.

Every year, I get a chance to be better.

Every year, I get a chance to make a student’s life different than it was before, and to inject their day with a bit of humor, challenge, intellectualism, and a true love for what I do.

Happy summer to all.

 

 

P.s. I made the little photo collage that accompanies this post using PicMonkey.com , which is a free, easy way to make cool picture compilations in seconds! Useful teaching resource for projects and presentations!