“To what base uses we may return…” OR Shut up and read

As of today, Philly’s got one month left of school. It’s starting to show. I’m fine with that.
In retrospect, I probably wouldn’t have saved Hamlet and Othello as the last texts for my ninth and tenth graders respectively. Still, I did, so we’re here and there’s nothing to be done about it now.
I co-teach my freshman sections with an equally energetic teacher whom the kids dubbed Ms. WaWa before I arrived.
We’ve made it to Act V Scene i and this is where the good stuff starts, right? I mean, daggers are drawn, poison is discussed and NO ONE is reading.
When reviewing the plot as it relates to the main themes in one section of today’s class, I did one of those teacher pauses and noticed that thing that happens sometimes where a teacher asks a question, gives the appropriate amount of think time and then in the absence of eager hands, answers the question with an energy level that would make the Micro Machines Man winded.
Direct questions to the more aloof members of the class resulted in the bewildered stare I remember giving to my mom where I hoped I could wait out her interest in an answer rather than offer something self-incriminating.
My sails a bit wind-deprived, I stopped WaWa and asked a question to which I already knew the answer.
They hadn’t read. Well, to be fair, four of them admitted they had completed the required reading. The rest of the class was either sitting idly hoping to go unnoticed or proffering up answers that belied a less-than-complete knowledge of the text.
I got my ire on.
“If you’ve read, that’s great, get started on tonight’s reading and you’ll be ahead of the game. If you haven’t read, start. Tomorrow, there will be a reading quiz asking for detailed answers to what happened.”
I was met with the requisite, “oh-geez-we-ticked-him-off-feign-shame” silence. A minute or so later, shame had passed, a laptop was opened. “What are you doing?” says I.
“I’m going on sparknotes to read the No Fear Shakespeare version.”
“No, no you’re not. We’re keeping technology out of this one and we’re just reading and making notes where we don’t understand things, so that we can ensure a rich class discussion tomorrow.”
Yeah, I used the teacher “we” when I was talking about them – that’s how ticked I was.
Now, I’ll admit to faking my way through many a class discussion (I like to think it’s a part of why they gave me my degree), but I also knew the classes where actually reading the text was key to survival:

Understanding of plot points – necessary
Main ideas of article on a New Historicist understanding of text – unnecessary

They don’t know how to honor these differences yet. Today’s class pulled back the curtain on a rather befuddled All Powerful Oz. Tonight they will read. They may not like it, but they will read. Such is life in compulsory education.
Tomorrow’s class will be better for it. They will feel smarter because they will actually be smarter. They will know which questions to ask and how to ask them. At least that’s the goal. No computers, no ActivBoards, no wifi, just kids, books, teachers and the occasional stickie note.
Here’s hoping.
More later.

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