Protocol Education

Supplying Shakespeare in Secondary Schools


20th May 2011

Georgina's latest ProtoBlog is about teaching Shakespeare, not only as a teacher, but as a supply teacher, in UK schools...

Teaching Shakespeare!

As an English teacher one of the hardest things you have to teach is something that is close to your heart: Shakespeare. Just the word brings groans of resentment, boredom and fear. Without fail I have been asked the following whenever I have started a Shakespeare unit: “Why do we have to study Shakespeare?” and “Why couldn’t he have just written it in ENGLISH?”

I also get asked if the DVD versions have English dubbing or subtitles.

Teaching Shakespeare as a supply teacher adds an extra layer of difficulty: trust. Usually by the time I introduce Shakespeare (as a full time teacher) I’ve gained some trust from my students. If I say that something is worthwhile or interesting they’ll usually believe me. Or, at least, give me the benefit of the doubt for about 15 minutes before they declare that it’s boring. But as a supply teacher the kids just raise their eyebrows and give you a ‘you have no idea what I like’ look when you tell them that Shakespeare rocks.

So that became the title of my Shakespeare course: Shakespeare Rocks. (Oh yes he does!) And in my lesson today I think I got one step closer to convincing my Year 8s of that fact.

I painstakingly put together a PowerPoint of  ‘10 Things I Love About Shakespeare’. In it I tried to cram every single ounce of enthusiasm and love I have for the incredibly crafted words that man created 400 years ago. Then I tried to link it to the lives of disinterested English teenagers who have pretty much no interest in Shakespeare or anything that requires more thought than what happened on Hollyoaks last night.

I think the first breakthrough was when I revealed that Shakespeare is dirty and often about sex. That got their interest. Then I went a step further and showed them that phrases he coined are still used today. I showed them a list of some of these phrases and asked them to keep a tally of how many they knew. All over the room I could hear their surprised voices and comments like ‘Oh I know that one!’ Suddenly Shakespeare was in the room with us, seeped into the phrases they have heard a million times like ‘bated breath’ or ‘break the ice’. I could see the connection forming between them and Shakespeare, fragile like any new relationship.

The clincher, though, was when I began to show them how many films and TV shows reference Shakespeare or are direct remakes. They could not contain their surprise that shows like ‘Family Guy’ and ‘South Park’ reference Shakespeare. Suddenly good old Will was in their world. If it’s in ‘Family Guy’ then it must be cool.

And I haven’t even got to Shakespearean insults yet!

~by Georgina, a secondary teacher working supply in UK schools through Protocol Education. Click here to read more by Georgina.

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