Saturday, April 27, 2013

S is for Shakespeare

S is for Shakespeare…in Middle School

Today I’m proud to allow my daughter, Jaime, post the “S” for Shakespeare. She is a 7th and 8th grade English and Humanities teacher, and loves her work. Her kids are working on Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s death day, his exact birthdate unknown, was the other day – April 23rd, 1616. I maintain he was an Aries, although I’ve no physical, metaphysical, logical or otherwise relevant proof…I maintain he was an Aries simply for the fact that prior to 2010 Shakespeare and I had a long and disharmonious relationship. Did I mention I’m an Aries – stubborn, strong-willed and logger-headed (all three words that mean ‘stubborn’). Simply put, I hated everything Shakespearean because I couldn’t understand it.

However, after a Bachelors degree in History, a Masters degree in teaching and several years teaching English, I’ve come to know, respect and, to a degree, love the bard. Regardless of whether or not you are a fan, there is something to be said for his ability to turn a phrase and insult people with wildly hilarious and totally inappropriate language.

Finding myself teaching middle school this year, I harkened back to my days as a hormone raging, acne prone, uncomfortable and irritable teenager. As I said before, I loathed Shakespeare simply for the fact that I just didn’t get it, and despite my protestations, I still had to read Romeo & Juliette, Hamlet and something else I’ve blocked out completely…I suppose the memories were just TOO bad.

Rather than repeat my high school experience, I decided to approach Shakespeare on his own turf – he likes to turn a phrase? HA! By George, we will, too! Thus the Shakespearean Insults were born. Each day my 8th graders come to class, I give them a new insult, today’s: Fie, fie you counterfeit cloak-bag, you puke stocking! They feverishly work for 2 minutes trying to figure out what it means – for some of them this is the only 2 minutes of the entire day when they will actually do work. We share our insults on the whiteboards at each table, and I read every one of them aloud. Now…being in middle school, they’ve naturally figured out that I’ll read just about anything, thus the following responses have left my mouth:

-       You are a puss infested toe on a hawt summa’ daaayyyy.
-       You are a donkey’s fart hole.
-       You are a stinky fart under my foot.
-       You are a drunken farting man (it seems this table likes farts).
-       Go away you drunken butthole.

We really do have fun with these insults – the conversations we have are pretty hilarious:

“Gleeking means?” I asked two weeks ago. 
“Close…when you spit on someone you are….”
“No, you are teasing and taunting them.” I receive a few nods and ‘ah’s.’ “Now, brazen-faced means what?”
Backstory…three weeks ago a friend of mine visited our classroom. One of my students took class-time during this lesson to ask the question… “is he your boyfriend?!” Deciding this was a perfect time to address ‘brazen’ I used her as an example. 
“When Y (Insert student name) asked me ‘is that guy your boyfriend?!’ she was asking in a totally brazen way. She was unashamed, unembarrassed and shameless, right?”
“Huh, so she didn’t really care if it would embarrass you, so she just asked?” someone clarified. Apparently, this example totally made sense…I’m so glad my personal embarrassment has led to some sort of learning. 
“Yes…it’s sort of like when I walk in here and say, ‘man I’m sweating sooo much’ and then show you the sweat marks on my shirt,” I reply, using yet another example from my personal life.
“Yeah, we get it hambone…just don’t do that again.” Hmm…
“Flax is…”
“A seed!” Star pupil X. “And a wench is a babe or a hoe…so she’s a seed hoe! No wait, a seed prostitute!” 
I roll my eyes…“well in a manner yes, but no. Why can’t you just say ‘seed babe’?” We discussed the thing to death, and discovered that by taking out the word ‘flax’ the insult totally made sense: Gleeking, brazen-faced flax-wench = A taunting/joking, shameless babe.

I’ve had entirely way too much fun teaching the language aspect of Shakespeare, and I think my students have as well. I suppose it’s an effort to reach those kids who, like me, just didn’t get it. But, what’s emerged from this is a group of highly intellectual, critical thinking, button-pushing 14 year-olds who can insult you using awesome language like it’s nobody’s business. In doing this, I feel I’ve addressed most of the “I don’t get it” types and have engaged them in a way that I would have wanted to learn, in a way that I would have totally been hooked to old English and atrocious sentence structure.

For all the wonderful things we do, unfortunately being a teacher, there are so many things we have to do in a day – “we wear a lot of hats” as we say in the staff lounge. It is doubly unfortunate that during any day, because we are pulled in so many differing directions, we cannot devote the time and our energies to each and every student who needs that one-on-one connection for understanding. There are young adults who, like me at that age, don’t understand, won’t ask for help and are simply content to carry on, ignorant. Sometimes it’s easier to do that then to ask ‘why’ or ask for help.

So, I’ll end with a shameless plug! Go talk to your children, your grandchildren. Find out what they are struggling with, find out what they don’t know…and then TELL US! E-mail us, call us, drop in to our offices and pester us! When it comes to education, there’s nothing more important than our own. As mom says, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and just think back to a time when you were too scared to ask for clarification. Had I been willing to embrace the radtasticalness of Shakespeare, I might have had an entirely different love affair…

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  1. Isnt it nice to know that even after hundreds of years, Shakespeare still leaves his mark. Im all for talking to our younger ones to see what they want to know

    1. So true, Julie. And so encouraging to see them have fun, as well as learn something. Jaime is the kind of teacher I wish I had.

  2. What a great post! I was one of those kids in elementary school who didn't ask questions when I didn't understand things, but for me was physics. Not until Grade 9 when I got this teacher and ex-pilot in the AF who taught in a way that drew me in and finally the bulb lit in my head. He was a grumpy older man who demanded punctuality and conducted the class like it was army. Many of my classmates were afraid of him, but I respected him. I think the way a student learns has a lot to do with the teacher and it looks like you are a wonderful teacher Jaime and I hope your students appreciate you!

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Best thing a mother could hear. And I completely agree!! LOL.

      What a wonderful story.

  3. Now you are a smart teacher, the kind who makes learning fun. An excellent post!

    1. DG, thanks for stopping by again. I am truly blessed to have such a beautiful, wonderful daughter who is so talented...

  4. Jaime,
    You are one very creative teacher! I loved your descriptions of the kids reactions and explorations on the insults. What will you do next?

    1. Thanks, Arletta. If it were up to mer mother, she'd write, but she certainly is a gift to those students who are lucky to have her. Of course I'm biased as heck!

  5. Thank you for all the lovely comments! We are having SO much fun with these Shakespearean Insults...I'm not sure how my students will react once we've finished the play. :) But...the good news, Arletta, is that we'll be doing Flash Fiction Mondays starting this week. I'm hoping to distract them with their own creativity - it's not enough to study the Bard, but we've now got to BE the Bard!! Yes, we have fun in a positive way - most of the time - and the classroom community we've created together as a class is simply phenomenal. Thanks again for your support and comments!!