A rose, by any other name

This semester I decided to take on Romeo and Juliet with my Grade 10 class. I’ve described the students before: a mixed group of  kids, some of whom read well, some who really don’t read, a newcomer to Canada whose English is limited, several students with autism, regular attenders, non-attenders, at least one LGBTQ student, backgrounds from around the world – you know, a pretty standard group of kids.

Romeo and Juliet is a traditional choice, of course, but not for this class. Still, six weeks into the semester, we did a brainstorming activity about what we wanted to learn next and how we wanted to learn it, and when I stood back to look at their requests – more motion, group work, talking, a challenge, something about teenagers, something fun – well, Romeo and Juliet fit the bill.

The students were not convinced. Most of them have never read Shakespeare, and they were pretty clear that this was “not going to work,” but they agreed to try it for a week. I promised it was *not* a love story, and we started with a quick participatory summary before we plunged in to Act 1, scene 1. The EA and I brought all the old swords we could find in our houses (ok, we had 6 light sabres, a pirate sword, a dagger and a paper towel tube), and by the end of class, all the students were on their feet, brawling in the street at 8:30 in the morning.

They could get behind that.

I use a lot of lessons from the Folger series Shakespeare Set Free. We also watch film clips and bits and pieces of stage plays. We talk a lot and skip some and summarize other bits. Everyone reads. We mispronounce things without fear and ask questions about everything. We play and laugh and generally have a good time. Twice during the unit, I stopped to ask if we needed to move on more quickly: once after the first week (as promised) – “NO!” they chorused – and once three weeks in, when I was afraid things were dragging. Again, no.

I was delighted by my students’ reactions and regularly shared the high points with colleagues in our office. During one conversation, another person came in. After listening, he chuckled and said something about my “rose-coloured glasses.” Then he left.

Wait. What?

The comment was made in passing, so quickly that I barely noticed it. My response was automatic – what I always say to the doubters: come visit my class. Only after he left did I get really mad. This is how we police teachers, isn’t it? When someone does well, when a class is engaged, when students are learning deeply – even with traditional material – we pull the teacher down. It’s not that the teacher (me) has taken her years of experience and deep knowledge of her subject to put together a learning experience that responds to the needs of the students in front of her. No, it’s that she is overestimating her students’ engagement. It couldn’t be that the kids we’ve relegated to the lower track are actually able to engage with complex language and thoughts. No, it’s that the teacher is exaggerating what the students are doing.

The accusation comes in other ways. The teacher is “easy” or “too nice” or “overly friendly” with their class. And sure, sometimes teachers are all of those things. But sometimes we’re not.

On Friday, my students – my non-readers, my students with autism, my English language learner, my disengaged, darling, wonderful class – performed scenes from Romeo and Juliet. For two days, they rummaged for costumes, rehearsed their lines, and practiced their staging. They wrote about their characters’ motivation and obstacles. They wrestled with original language and cut lines when necessary. In short, they were excellent. One pair played the Nurse and Juliet so well that we were all laughing and everyone stayed the extra minute past the bell when the scene ran over. Everyone. Even the two least engaged students.

I thought I’d blown off the comment, but I haven’t. I suspect my colleague’s throw-away line shows what he thinks is really happening in my class. And I suspect others also underestimate my students. But I’ll tell you what, if this is rose-coloured glasses, I’ll take it. Because together we rocked Romeo and Juliet.

 

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18 thoughts on “A rose, by any other name

  1. I’m sorry your colleague brought you down because you are obviously engaged with your students and care deeply about their learning. You also know that learning has to be fun. I think he was just jealous. Nevertheless, keep doing what you are doing. You are making a difference.

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  2. Ah, the pull-down of a colleague. I’ve seen it many times. It is the dreadful part of teaching… but it shouldn’t be! (I just had a conference call with an administrator about this yesterday. I learned that the teachers who do writing workshop and find it working for their kids are afraid to speak up since it is an unpopular position. What a shame!)
    Keep doing the amazing things you are doing with your students, Amanda. You have a group of Slicers rooting for you!

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    1. What a shame indeed. I can’t imagine a school climate where people can’t share their successes openly. And I am so glad to have such an amazing group of Slicers on my side – support means everything!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There is always an issue when teachers are able to get out of students what others cannot. There is the accusation and it is hurtful. I am sorry that you have to endure it.

    You reached children in a way that no one has before. that is the part you should focus on!
    We all appreciate it who read your blog ! BRAVO – maybe some Shaksperean insults need to be thrown around ! hahaa

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    1. Ah! The Shakespearean insults. Always such fun! Somehow just writing about my colleague’s comment made me feel better – maybe because I also wrote about my students. Writing fixes (almost) everything 😉

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  4. Ah yes, the passive aggressive put downs directed to those who truly know how to teach and how to reach students. I loved every moment of this slice! (And also had great success with the Shakespeare Set Free series myself.) I’ve got my own pair of rose-colored glasses, which I will happily join you in wearing!

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  5. I felt the rise and fall, the push and pull, the emotional roller coaster of a ride with your slice. Bravo for continuing on with doing what is right for your students! I recently read a quote: “Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from.” Maybe this holds true. Keep wearing those rose-colored glasses!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Before I even got to the part about the nay sayer, I was excited about the engagement and all that you considered to make this a worthwhile experience for your students. These are the moments they will remember.

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  7. I found myself vicariously swashbuckling along with all of you. What a wonderful classroom experience you’ve engineered and I really appreciate how you built in choice along the way–and how affirming of it all that your students enthusiastically chose to continue this dive into Shakespeare. I’m sorry for the dismissive, tossed off comment your colleague made. Perhaps wearing rose-colored glasses merely means that you can see promise and potential, whereas he’s limited to seeing the world through a much darker lens. Great post!

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  8. 1: sometimes people are jerks. Why enter someone’s classroom & criticize?

    2: I have never read R&J!

    3: you really show how important it is to know your subject, know lots of books, and know your students. You made a perfect match!

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  9. I have two daughters: 16 and 14. Whenever a teacher can capture their imagination and have them learn, not memorize but learn, that teacher is gold. You are gold.

    Unfortunately you will have critics. No matter what you do, no matter how much success you achieve in the classroom, a critic will follow.

    That person is below you. On the plus side: Well done. My girls would have loved this.

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