Monday, November 17, 2008

Mr. Softy

“I’m a softy.”
“You are softy,” Sharon agreed emphatically. Friday morning, as she was scurrying to class, she told me that this was the last day possible to give the students their mid-term oral examination. This was the deadline. I told her that I would give it to them without fail. I didn’t.

There was a more substantial reason than the fact that I am a softy that I did not give the students their oral examination. Let me explain. Friday is now my big day, 5 class periods with the same group of students, now that Markus is in place and Dolly is gone Dolly gone. Since Friday is in fact my big day, I thought this a perfect excuse to do something major on Friday.

The easy thing would be to put in a DVD and be done with it. That is what I would have done in the past and I did not rule out the fact of putting in a DVD but at the same time, I wanted to do something that would benefit the students instead of something that just gave me a rest. That is when I hit upon the idea of studying Hamlet.

Recently, I happened upon Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version. Sadly, Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s plays that I knew in passing but I had never seen or read all the way through. When I watched it a few nights ago, I was completely enthralled by the story. Without a doubt, I am aware that I am not discovering some sort of obscure Elizabethan treasure .
Hamlet, though far from obscure, grabbed me and held me which truly surprised me. I appreciate Shakespeare but I am not one of those people that worship at the Shakespeare altar. Now that I am a teacher, I do appreciate him more because I must view films through my students’ eyes and not only that but how what they see and learn may benefit then down the road.

As I watched the film for the first time, I wondered if it would hold the students’ attention like it held mine. Would the black and white film and the lack of elaborate sets keep their attention?

Granted, if I showed the students the film, I would still be sticking in a DVD which could still be viewed as taking the easy way out. Nevertheless, this is a work of literature that might greatly benefit them in the future. Thus, I decided to devote Friday to Hamlet.

In between my first two classes of the morning, I passed Sharon on the stairway. She was rushing off to a meeting and in flight she asked me to give the students their oral examination. As I mentioned previously, she told me that this was the deadline. However, Leon was not at school so he would have to take the test on Monday. Although I had already had the Hamlet plan in place, I agreed that I would give the oral examination to the students. At the time, I thought it would be easier to agree and not do it than to disagree and have an argument.

Of course, you ask, why did I not just put the film on hold? Since I had already started the film, I thought the best thing to do was to see it through. At this point, I know how the students respond. They actually really enjoyed the first 40 minutes of the film. If I had taken a break from the film and let them prepare for the oral examination and then let them take the oral examination, I was afraid by the time we got back to Hamlet they would have lost all interest. Anytime I can get the boys interested in something, I know that I must completely take advantage of the situation.

At this point, I have learned to just go along with Sharon and do things my way. She and Edward argue all of the time in the teachers’ office. I have decided I do not want to be a part of this dynamic. I like to think of myself as a ‘go with the flow’ sort of person.

Needless to say, all of this planning and strategizing could be for naught. At the end of the day (literally), there was no way to be sure if this plan would work. After four class periods of Hamlet, I had no way of knowing if the students would even still be interested. Really, that was a lot to ask especially in this age, this age of instant rice, noodles and gratification.

Surprisingly, at the end of the film, the whole class was completely rapt, the whole class but Venice who was asleep but everyone else was rapt with the exception of Venice. As a teacher, this was an amazing moment in my teaching experience. Never would I have predicted that Hamlet would hold their attention so completely. Maybe in some way, Hamlet is much like the Chinese epics that are so popular among the Chinese masses. There is the king and the turmoil within the family and sword fighting and love into madness, all of the components that make a fascinating story, crossing all cultural barriers.

Thus, at the end of the film, everyone was excited to talk about the film. Usually, I have trouble getting the boys to speak. This time, Kevin wanted to be the first to answer questions. Danny responded without his usual shyness. He told me that he liked Horatio the best because he was a good friend to Hamlet. Elliot who never speaks chimed in that Ophelia was in love with Hamlet. That made her sad so she killed herself.

At the end of the day, when I walked into the teachers office, Sharon told me that the students had informed her that I told them we would have the oral examination on Monday. She was not angry. She was more amused than anything. In her mind, I spoil the students which I suppose is true to some degree. Maybe I am a softy. But, in my defense, the students have a impenetrable love and understanding of Hamlet now.


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