The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0616  Thursday, 15 March 2001

From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 14 Mar 2001 07:13:32 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.0602 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0602 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

In response to Stephanie Hughes's suggestion that teachers must work for
change, Kezia Vanmeter Sproat asked:

> Any ideas on where to start?

Well, here are a couple of ideas, some of which go back to the Kezia's
earlier comments:

In the short term, teachers in classrooms that are lucky enough to have
computers and online access for students (I've never been so lucky, but
I hear some are) who want their students to read certain texts (like
Shakespeare, for example) can assign visits to the various etext sites.
For contemporary authors and works not in the public domain for other
reasons, this won't work, obviously, but there's still a LOT that is
available in this way.  It's also a good way, when dealing with
Shakespeare, to incorporate issues relating to performance, the
Elizabethan/Jacobean sociocultural milieu and the like.

This assumes that the textbooks chosen by the relevant school authority
are inadequate.  Yes, a lot of them are, but not all of them.  Teachers
can use what influence they have to get their schools, or their
districts, to purchase the good ones.  This takes effort.  You have to
go to many boring meetings, organize your presentation to
decision-making groups, etc., etc.  Sometimes it works, though.

To make textbooks better, you can get involved in editorial boards for
new textbooks.  This is easier than you might think.  Email publishers
and tell them you'd like to be put on the list for relevant books in
production.  You may not get to participate, but sometimes you will.
This also has the benefit of getting a shipment of free books for your
class that you can try out.  Of course, again, there is effort: you need
to fill out the publisher's questionnaires and write little reports, but
sometimes it's worth it.  And the results can be better-quality

You can get more active (or join!) in whatever union or professional
organization (e.g. in the US, NCTE) you belong to, and lobby for more
teacher input on curriculum and textbook decisions.

Longer term: do whatever you can through whatever appropriate
professional or alum group to push for substantive subject content area
training for teachers.  Getting back to Shakespeare, one example might
be that any person who aspires to become a teacher of English literature
(which now, alas, falls under the dumbed-down label of "language arts"
in the US) should be required to take core courses in Chaucer,
Shakespeare, Milton, etc., etc.  This is unfashionable, and risks making
you sound like Harold Bloom (yuck!), but the alternative has proven to
be all too many "language arts" teachers who have never actually read
literary texts...much less know how to interpret them or make them come
alive for students.

The last is not a "banding together for change" suggestion, but rather
an individual suggestion:

If you teach in high school, you have to deal with so much that can suck
your heart and soul right out of you.  Do whatever you can to re-access
your own passion for Shakespeare, and literature in general.  I'm not
being specific because this will be different for everyone.  When your
passion for your topic is again free-flowing, you will be in a better
position to spot those one or two students in each class who might, just
might, take note of your enthusiasm and decide on their own to
investigate further.  If you can spot those one or two, chat with them.
Lure them on with descriptions of all the yummy texts that are out there
that you, for whatever reason, can't incorporate in the classroom.
Sneak photocopies (only of public domain material!) to those who are too
embarrassed to go to the library to find those texts.  Remember, too,
that even if you don't see any life at all in that sea of bored faces,
that occasionally you will be having an impact that you may never know
about: it's a delayed reaction for some kids.

Sorry for the extended ranting.  If anything is helpful, fine.  If not,
never mind.

Karen E. Peterson

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