Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Teaching and Learning in These Days: Your Stories

Earlier this month our Director of Education, Peggy O’Brien, asked you, our teaching colleagues across the country, to send us your stories about teaching in these changing, challenging times.

“We are always carrying you and your work and your students in our hearts and minds,” Peggy wrote, “but maybe no more so than right now. Teaching middle school and high school English has never been anything close to a walk in the park, but things are different in these days and months. We know from so many of you that you and your students are dealing with extra layers of emotion.” Peggy went on to ask, “So . . . since this is us: can we talk? So that we can learn from one another?” 

And you replied. Lots of you.

So… today and in the coming weeks, we are honored to share your stories.

From Pam in Idaho:

“Even in our little town of Sandpoint we are feeling the bite of unrest. Students are forming clubs that reflect their need to express their views. We have a club that celebrates the 50.5%, formed by young women (and young men). Another club is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, young men who want to explore what it means to be a male in today’s society. We also have Interact and Key Club, which reaches out with fundraisers to meet the needs of the community. The administration has a mentor class of student peers who lead discussion groups.

Class discussion topics for my AP Language class bring forth interests such as “fake news,” and how women are portrayed in the media. Students exchange ideas and debate views. We share. I remind them their voices can be heard. They march. They write letters and articles for the school paper. They are involved. I am fortunate to be part of their conscious desire to be the change they want to see in the world.

And in all this, I keep teaching Shakespeare. He saw injustice, corruption, love, hate, death, prejudice and he put pen to paper, and words became actions upon the stage. Students see that 400 years later we still have the same issues, even if they are expressed in a different manner at times. My students see that one man continues to have a large influence upon the world. Shakespeare truly is a man for all time.

I use all, and then some, from my Folger Summer Academy days. ‘To be or not to be…’ involved, caring, compassionate, open-minded, and willing to listen–it’s all there from a time before. Truthfully, teaching Shakespeare has helped me get through.”

From Tina in Pennsylvania:

“My way of reacting to all of this was to be emboldened. I was fortunate enough to attend NCTE in Atlanta and participate in the Folger Library sessions. I left those sessions inspired and more motivated than ever. I am blessed with being assigned to teach the Shakespeare elective at Altoona Area High School in Pennsylvania. My course draws kids of all interests and all ability levels. I may have the all star athlete mixed in with the kid who is too quiet and shy to even make eye contact. Sometimes they sign up for the course because they are truly interested, sometimes the computer “dumps” them into the course. So, my work is cut out for me to “hook” them on Shakespeare. This year, after the Conference, I met with my principal because I realized that we had a Black Box theater in our school that had not been used for anything but storage. He was so helpful! We were able to clean out the approximately 150 outdated computers and old toys that were once used for our pre-school program. I now have a new space to use with my kids and they love it. I am finally able to get them up and moving and really incorporate the lessons I have learned from participating in the Folger workshops as well as some other ideas I’ve had. It has made the biggest difference for my kids. Our district may be building a new high school; the plans now include a Black Box theater with seating for at least 50 people so small productions would be able to be showcased in it. I am so excited.

I strongly believe that in times of adversity, one has to stand up to the bully and fight for what is right by being positive and creative. We as teachers need to have an attitude of ‘I’ll show you how important the arts [and humanities] are to kids.’ I have 100 kids a year who complete the Shakespeare elective. I wish I would have saved the emails and recorded the conversations with them when they tell me that they have gone on to take a Shakespeare class in college. We need to stand up and remind our leaders of the importance of institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Folger Library.”

Thanks to Pam, Tina, and their students for spreading light.