This Is Teaching At Its Finest

I love love LOVE this article about teaching Macbeth to junior high students that appeared in the New York Times a few weeks ago:

Reading Shakespeare sounds like pandemonium. They take 10 minutes just to give out parts, one boy always holding out for Duncan, wanting nothing to do with traitors.

Another boy, a seventh grader, large-eyed, with a lisp, has acted in “Macbeth” in an after-school program. He glides through Macbeth’s speech, opening and closing stout arms, declaiming, When I had most need of a blessing, the word Amen… His little hands shake as the other kids gape, impressed by this previously invisible boy.

When you listen to them, it’s like they’re playing. They mock one another and cajole. They fight over the good parts. The disciplinarian in me wants them to hold still, though it’s a play with plenty of standing and yelling.

THE new Common Core Standards for English Language Arts say students in grades seven and eight should be exposed to texts written in archaic language. I tell myself this is an exposure.

So much of teaching is messy and ridiculous. In this article, Ms. Hollander wonders what she might tell someone who walked into her classroom at this moment. On my best days, if an outsider were to walk into my classroom, they would see much of the same pandemonium. I say these are my best days because they are the ones when the most learning happens.

So much of Macbeth is standing and yelling. So much of literature is revolutionary, and revolutions cannot happen from a desk in the middle of a classroom. Good literature, the stuff that teaches us Truth with a capital T, is not just to be enjoyed in a quiet corner of the world. It is to be argued with and explored out loud. So much of the literature we are supposed to give our students whispers “yes” and affirms everyone’s delicate sensibilities. Real literature must yell a booming “NO” and turn our sensibilities on their heads, or else we do not have to think at all. Literature should boom and shout and make us think, whether we want to or not.

Education reformers want to turn teaching into a science. They want discipline to be clear-cut and swift. They want literature to whisper “yes.” They want teachers and students to whisper “yes,” as well.

What I love about Ms. Hollander’s article is that she doesn’t whisper anything. She embraces the mess and the art of both teaching and literature. She is the kind of teacher I aspire to be; hers is the kind of classroom I aspire to have.

This is teaching at its finest.

Featured Image Credit: andrewasmith

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