Thursday, November 15, 2012

Enthusiasm Begets Enthusiasm

I taught King Lear for the first time a looooong time ago, at Rowland-Hall/St. Mark's School, and then I had to abandon my favorite play for twelve years. I moved from high school to middle school, and friends told me I could not teach King Lear in middle school, that they would not understand it, that it's a play for adults, not children.

Fine. I'm open to compromise and the input of my peers, so I taught the proper middle school plays. I taught The Tempest and Twelfth Night and I Henry IV, and Julius Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet. I played by the rules. I believed the hype. I did my best to love those plays as I love Lear.

But my love was misplaced, and then...last year. Last year, I was in the middle of a short story unit with my 8th grade, and they were bored. I was bored. We were all bored, and I got desperate. I needed a secret weapon, a work of literature that I loved with all of my heart, something I could get excited about.

And there it was, on King Lear, Oxford Series, for $9.95 a copy with free shipping. And oh, have I mentioned how I love King Lear? So I asked them, "Would you rather continue with this short story unit or spend the rest of the academic year reading King Lear?" It was Lear by a landslide.

Teachers can present works they are dispassionate about all they want - I have had to do it - but my students can tell, and they end up caring less. If there's something a teacher loves, and is enthusiastic to share with her students? Fuggedaboutit. Teach that. Teach that every time.

Teacher enthusiasm begets student enthusiasm. Today, I collected King Lear reading journals and the students presented their creative projects. I first assigned this creative projects in 1999, and I have loved every presentation since then. Last year's decision to teach King Lear is described here, but this year's assignment is below, for your viewing pleasure. The assignment is to represent the storm on the heath - both the external and interior - in some sort of visual presentation to the class. Last year's offerings are here, and here are a few of this year's offerings:



  1. Good for you! Did anyone say, "You can't teach that in middle school because they teach it in the high school."? I taught "Hamlet" to my 7th grade remedial reading class. I found a Reader's Theatre version, and the kid's loved it! They even had the opportunity to act it out on our stage. I didn't let others tell me I couldn't teach it. Reading Hamlet in MS is WAY different than reading it in HS. It feels good to teach with passion!

  2. Awesome examples - and good for you that you allow yourself to deviate from "the rules" - everyone in your classroom benefited from this!