Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kindling Classroom Conversations with Primary Documents from the Folger Shakespeare Library

Teaching William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew presents some challenges for feminist teachers such as myself. With the help of the Folger Shakespeare Library's online primary documents, the job gets much easier.

The Good and the Badde or Descriptions of the Worthies and Unworthies of the Age (1616) addresses stereotypes of women in the 17th century. On the Folger website, teachers will find a lesson plan with scans from several of the book's pages, including descriptions of "Virgins," "An Unwanton Woman," "A Quiet Woman," "An Unquiet Woman," and "A Good Wife."

I chose to introduce students to The Taming of the Shrew by first having them read these passages. They handled the archaic spellings beautifully and generated a dynamic discussion with little prompting from me in one class and no prompting in the other. My students eagerly offered their assessment of the 1616 stereotypes of women's roles:

  • "It's like women are property of men," offered one young man.
  • "Reminds me of my mom, except for the patience. She's not patient," said a young girl.
These comments, and others, lead to additional opinions by others, as well. My students have strong opinions about whether or not a woman's role in relation to her husband.

We followed up the discussion about stereotypes with a line-tossing activity, two-person skits, and an interactive summary, all designed to engage students with Shakespeare's language and introduce students to the play.

If today offers an indication of how the unit will unfold, my students will have plenty to laugh about and talk about as we discover The Taming of the Shrew and seventeenth century notions about gender roles.

As teachers prepare to implement CCSS into the English language arts curriculum, primary documents from the Folger Shakespeare Library offer fantastic informational documents for igniting classroom conversations and for meeting critical reading standards in the twenty-first century. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dear Administrator: Please Don't Ask Me...

If I could write a letter to administrators about why I'm still a teacher after 31 years in the classroom, here's what I would say:

Dear Administrator:

With all due respect, and I do have great respect for you and appreciate the hard work you do very much, please don't ask me why I don't have a Ph.D. and why I don't pursue a professorship in a university.

I know you mean this question/suggestion as a compliment and want to encourage me to self-actualize. But I'm a high school teacher and have never desired to become an administrator or a professor. I believe high school students deserve the smartest, most learned, most inquisitive teachers and would like to see some of the fabulous college professors I've had use their talents to teach high school students.

Thank you for noticing and acknowledging my efforts to continue learning. However, I assure you that I'm not nearly as smart as you give me credit for being. I know my limitations and can name many teachers from around the country who make me look like the village idiot in terms of intellect and accomplishments. Just a few I've had the pleasure of meeting include Jim Burke, Kelly Gallagher, Tim Gillespie, Penny Kittle, Meenoo Rami, Gary Anderson, Donnalyn Miller, to name a few.

Some others I know only online but have come to respect and admire: Michael Umphrey, Mardi, Mark Smith, and many others. Others I've had the good fortune to work closely with via my ties with the Folger Shakespeare Library and via the Ning my students share with a school in California: Julie Bowerman, Ami Szerence, Dana M. Huff, Mark Miazga, Scott O'Neal, Joe Scotese, and a whole host of other teachers whom I don't have space to name.

I've also had the good fortune to work side-by-side with excellent teachers who challenge me to be better than I ever thought I could be, including Shirley Saraf, a former colleague who encouraged me to pursue National Board Certification.

The news media and corporate education reformers tell us that American schools should be more like those in Finland. Yet Finland actively recruits the top students from their universities to be teachers. Conversely, in the United States, we often tell those teachers who push themselves academically, whom we see as "too smart to be teachers" to go do something else. This paradigm seems counter to the rhetoric, I think.

To my profession's credit, we have many teachers who ignore the "you're too smart to be a teacher" good intentions and remain in the classroom anyway. That's where I plan to stay until my retirement.

I'll need you to support and encourage me in my work. I'll need you to continue diminishing the importance of the scary laws that punish hard-working teachers. I'll need you to help me see how to improve my practice rather than telling me you "have nothing" to offer me in terms of planning and lesson execution. I need you to value my expertise and experience and work to encourage other teachers to continue learning and achieving in their academic areas.

As an undergrad I spent a summer working in a church in West Palm Beach, Florida. One Sunday the minister proclaimed from the pulpit: "You can't lead where you haven't been." That admonishment has stuck with me and has guided my teaching. I believe it's the kind of leadership students need in the classroom and beyond.

So please don't ask me why I'm still a teacher thirty-one years in; I've heard this question too often. Instead, ask why we aren't doing more in our state and nation to encourage the best among us to be teachers, and not just for a brief two-year stint as TFA requires. 

Ask me to help make that happen; then it'll be time for me to step aside and make room for the next generation of teachers, whom I hope will be far more accomplished than my limited successes have made me.

I'm a teacher because I want to make a difference in the lives of students, just the way those teacher who challenged and pushed me most have done for me. I still have a few years left to do that.


Glenda Funk, NBCT: AYA/ELA; MA English; Folger TSI Alum

What would your letter to administrators say?

Below: "What Teachers Make" by Taylor Mali