Monday, October 18, 2010

Introduction to Shakespeare

In my former life as a freshmen English teacher, I spent about six weeks a year introducing my 100 or so kids to Shakespeare.

In my current life as a mom of the most fabulous three year old, I was told that Ryder introduced my mom and dad to Shakespeare.

I loved teaching my freshmen Romeo and Juliet every year. I was shocked that the Shakespeare unit would become one of my favorites. There are so many difficulties teaching Shakespeare to kids with literacy skills that are overall (for the most part) quite unimpressive. But after a couple of years, I anticipated the groans of anxiety when I told the kids we were going to start the Romeo and Juliet unit because I knew that by the end, they were going to LOVE this story. So maybe most of them never left discussing the advantages of free verse and iambic pentameter, and I'm sure they did not realize how heartbreakingly beautiful the images and wordplay and characters were, but they were so with me on making fun of traditional romantic hero Romeo.

I loved watching the kids rush in to class to sign up for parts and watching the boys fight to read Juliet's part, because every year in at least one class, I had a group of boys who thought that reading Juliet's part was funny. Different kids every year (well, mostly, I had a few who loved me so much they came back for seconds of the same class :); same responses to Shakespeare. And the end...oh, the end, when we were all just over it, and ready for fickle, sissy, whining Romeo to just die in the most tragic of death scenes, and the kids would be realizing how useless the deaths were, and lamenting the decisions the characters had so quickly made to be brought to the tombs. And of course I loved that after we had read, discussed, interpreted, dissected, and then reassembled the story, and we would watch the movie, I would always have at least a couple of kids who would be yelling at the TV, "No, don't drink it....she's NOT DEAD!" (The first experience I had of this was watching it with Jonie when we were teenagers, but Jonie did not KNOW that they both died before watching the movie. Imagine how sad the movie is when you don't know they both die). So, before I started teaching, I loved Shakespeare for his beautiful writing and timeless stories, but now my reasons that Romeo and Juliet will always be one of my all-time favorite stories are reasons such as Ashley, and DeMario, Jessica, and Justin, and many other similar names.

But as much as I loved introducing those kids to Shakespeare, my best teaching efforts were no match for Ryder. He was sitting on our front porch with Mom and Dad, and Shakepeare (our furry, gray and white, neighborhood wondering version who meows in perfect iambic pentameter) came to visit. Ryder said, "Granna, this is Shakespeare," and then, "Shakespeare, this is my cousin, Granna." Ryder totally understands Shakespeare, but we may need a lesson on grandmothers vs. cousins :)

So, Ryder really loves Shakespeare, the wandering cat, and this is huge because he used to scream and hide and be terrified of cats (just ask Hokey, Kyle and Kellee's cat). He has full conversations with Shakespeare. I overheard him talking to him the other day: "Jonie's coming over here. Do you like Jonie, Shakespeare? (Meow...he is a very talkative cat). You do? I like Jonie, too." I asked Ryder after one of his conversations with Shakespeare who his favorite pet was, and he said Shakespeare was. I was feeling bad for faithful Aprilia, who has so patiently allowed Ryder to climb over her since he was born, so I asked, "What about Aprilia?" Ryder looked at me like I had just asked the silliest question ever. "Aprilia's my friend, Mom. She's my buddy." (Ryder really does have real, live people friends for those of you that are concerned about these friendships with cats, dogs, and imaginary squirrels).

And finally, Ryder does know about the playwright and poet Shakespeare, and that he is different from the cat. We can ask Ryder who whe writer Shakespeare was, and Ryder will reply "Milliam Shakespeare." And then when we ask what he wrote, Ryder quotes the witches from Macbeth (sort of). "Bubble, Bubble, toil and trouble. Fire burn and called him TROUBLE!" (And he laughs because he knows the last word is bubble.) He's known these lines for about a year now, because that is what I say to him every time I put bubbles in his bath. I know that it's not something that every mother does, but I thought I was introducing him to Shakespeare in a sweet and cute way. However, I never knew in all the years I planned lessons to introduce Shakespeare to kids, that I would be waitingforRyder to introduce Shakespeare to us.

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