October is an odd month for my classroom. Friday, October 7 was our school-wide Service Day, where our students went all over the city and area, helping at 60-some locations. My little group of 11 went to Camp Lutherhaven in Albion, Indiana, and helped clean up after several dead trees had been taken down.
|We weren’t the most efficient group, but they had fun.|
Then we started a new quarter, where grading starts over and everyone gets a clean slate. This past week was essentially a two-day week: Wednesday we gave the PSAT with an early release followed by parent-teacher conferences, and Thursday and Friday we were off for Fall Break. This Friday I am taking my sociology students to a day of lectures at the university across the street, so I’m missing another day. With so much disconnect, it’s hard to plan and get anything done, but today we tried – and I think succeeded, to some degree.
Romeo and Juliet
My freshmen are starting Romeo and Juliet, which is one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays to teach so I tend to draw out the introductory classes to avoid actually reading the text with them.
I had them read the textbook intro to Shakespeare, “The Genius from Stratford,” and take notes, then I invited them to the board to write some of their facts up – my first period class especially is so sleepy they need to move or I lose them completely. I then tell them all the random facts that make history interesting, but we often skip, which is why so many think history is “boring.” For example:
- While the book says Shakespeare’s father was a tanner, did you know part of creating leather involved soaking it first in urine?
- His wife Anne Hathaway gave birth six months after the wedding. Bless the freshman who asked, “Was it a premie?”
- Some analyses have shown that up to 30% of women were pregnant when they married in England at this time. (Source)
- With Elizabeth I as a patron, Shakespeare needed to write to please the virgin queen – so his histories weren’t unbiased, as my students might have believed.
- Theaters were first built not to make it easier to perform plays, but to instead make money – can’t charge people for admission when you host a play in the town square or farmer’s field.
- When Shakespeare moved to London, he pretty much left his wife and children behind – and didn’t move back until after he retired.
- The audience who came to Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe were the same types of people we might find in the infield at a NASCAR race – and the plays often catered to that social class as much as to the royal patrons. My students always consider Shakespeare to be “classy” – but when I point out the blatant sexual innuendo, they eventually change their point of view.
My AP student have at last wrapped up Puritan literature (we hit The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, The Devil and Tom Walker, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” “Model of Christian Charity”). They are relieved – although many will have it continue as I graded their Scarlet Letter essays pretty hard – average score was an 80, which for AP kids is pretty darn low. I gave them the option to rewrite their drafts for higher scores, so hopefully many will take advantage of the ability to improve their writing.