My second placement for student teaching has been a two month crash course on teaching Othello to high school students. It has been a wild, wild, crazy experience, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. To all you Adolescent English Majors: continue in your programs. Do not be intimidated! It is completely possible to learn how to teach high school Shakespeare, and be an engaging educator! Fear thee not. This being said, when you’re handed a wild, crazy experience you are guaranteed to learn a couple things…
Here’s what you learn from teaching Othello:
- You learn that 40% of your class has no idea what’s going on in the play, 55% have skipped ahead to the fight scenes, and the other 5% are working on their Shakespeare dissertations.
- You never take it personally, when a student declares that, “Ms. Neumann! I hate this Shakespeare stuff!”
- You learn to read, read, and reread the text before you teach it. You read it in the original text. You reread it in a modern version. You don’t use Sparknotes and Cliffnotes as an excuse for laziness. You actually use them the way they were intended– a lifeline! (and a way to study the text).
- You learn to ALWAYS preview the movie before showing clips in class. (Use your imagination on that one. Also, check the ratings on any DVD.)
- You learn that enthusiasm is as contagious as the bubonic plague, and if you can get a bunch of fifteen year old’s excited about something like Desdemona’s handkerchief? You can learn to teach anything.
- You learn that kids hate/love acting out the scenes. You learn to make them do it anyway, and eventually everyone is clapping in applause.
- You learn that there’s something about plastic swords that brings out the actor in all of us.
- You learn Shakespearean insults. “A pox on you for late homework!”
- You learn to laugh at yourself when you spell Desdemona’s name wrong on the board–in front of the entire class.
- You learn to capitalize on the bizarre, gross, gory, and strange details of the play. Iago said what!
- You learn that ultimately teaching Shakespeare is a study in human nature, both from the characters in the text and from the reactions of your students…at being assigned homework over it.
- You learn that having the best supervising teacher ever makes the experience. You know who you are!
- You learn that only an English teacher shouldst heed the pangs of love and agony which doth spring from the instructing of pupils on bookish fancies of a man heretofore accorded witness as Shakespeare. You learn that you are an English teacher.