By Mark Miazga
When I started my career, Shakespeare intimidated me. I became an English teacher in part to share my love of reading with students, but I never had loved reading Shakespeare.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but my entire 13 years of public and Catholic schooling in both southwest Michigan and suburban Detroit yielded just one Shakespeare play: a reading of Macbeth in the 10th grade.
And, even though I devoured books and mainly loved English classes, the experience with Shakespeare wasn’t a good one; I remember sitting in rows, reading the play aloud, my teacher explaining lines afterwards. Nothing else.
Flash forward a few years, and I’m a high school English teacher on my own in a large urban school in Baltimore City. I held my own, for the most part, but my teaching of Shakespeare felt like the weakness in my game.
Even though I used the Shakespeare Set Free series at times, I didn’t feel confident enough to take many of the risks that the series entailed. I spent way too much time trying to make kids understand the plot, and devoted much of my energy to explaining lines, just like that uninspiring teacher I had in the 10th grade.
By the end of the unit, I think my students could probably describe some foreshadowing or celestial imagery in Romeo and Juliet, but were they any more confident in reading Shakespeare the next time they picked up a play? Would they be going to a Shakespeare play on their own when it one was being performed around town? What would they remember about their experience with reading Shakespeare 10 years from now? It was definitely “not much”.
So I applied to the 2008 Teaching Shakespeare Institute, describing much of what I just told you: that Teaching Shakespeare was a bit scary to me and I wanted to be a better Shakespeare teacher.
And the four weeks here at the Folger changed my teaching life and continue to have an impact on my students and me every single unit that I teach. (more…)