What about using this ghost as a teaching tool? Does talking about the apparition of the murdered King draw this public alternative high school into the occult,
Into religion, talk of death?
Yes. However, within the realm of this classic text lies educational freedom. I advocate using the ghost as a teaching tool, as a way into the text and as a stimulus for writing and conversation. I believe all of us have been frightened by what may be under the bed, in the closet, the basement, the attic.
In what setting may an encounter with a ghost occur?
"…in an island that has never been see before on a map and the island is made up of rocks around dirt…"(Reinaldo B.)
"The room was dark, chilly, and quiet So whatever noise was to , happen she would hear it." (Kenia H.)
"It was a nice and calm night, the time was around 2 a.m. there wasn't hardly no one up it's a work day." (Camilo T.)
"It takes place hours after the funeral, during the middle of the night in the dark bedroom." (Timothy H.)
The ghost, former King and father of Prince Hamlet, makes demands of his son: "Mark me", "revenge my most foul and unnatural murder"; leave your mother alone, but do not let the royal bed of Denmark be a nest for incest.
Many of my students have ambivalent or negative feelings about their fathers, but also maintain a romantic attachment to the idea of Father. As a drama therapist and former SPARK (substance abuse prevention) counselor, I am aware of the concept of teacher as therapist in the classroom. My training informs my work and grants me insight into the writings and comments of my students. The student who wrote about meeting a ghost after the funeral lost his mother to death, and his father has always been lost to him. Teachers, especially but not exclusively, in alternative settings need to make an extra effort to know the stories of their students. What better place to do this than in English class? I overheard one staff member question a student, "What about your mother?" She did not know that student's mother had died a year before. These mistakes are inevitable, but careful communication between student and teacher delicately paves the way for authentic writing. What are we asking the students to do in response writing? Respond in their own voice and experience to what they read, to try to identify with what they read, to find a way into the text, and in their writing to carry on a conversation with the narrator of the text they are studying. In this dialogue their realities are both clearly and obliquely stated and the teacher needs to be alert to signs of profound loss, sadness, or distress. Sometimes the students have no other person watching out for their well-being.
Using a ghost as a writing trigger frees the students to imagine,
To enter a world that is real on a level beyond their ordinary experience:
"Oh ghost, you make me wanna wonder why are you here. Are you warning me of something that's on the way." (Kenia H.)
"Oh snap, a real ghost. How's the afterlife, did you use to live in this house? Did you die in this house? Did you accomplish everything you wanted to do in life? Did you have a family? Am, I seeing you for a purpose? Is this some kind of message. Do you have something to tell me. Is it my time now." (Camilo T.)
"what kind of joke is this so, to stand here before me and act as if you're my dead husband, have you no shame…" (Kenia H.)
"My love for you would never change, it never did since the first time I'll eyes meet. Never did I leave you alone regardless of how deep my body was. My spirit stayed within you. No matter how hard you chose to block. My darlin sweet darlin please go on with your life but please do not forget me my sweet Anabell. (Kenia H.)
"What's good, why you looking at me like you never seen a ghost?"
"Yo, I gotta stop smoking this shit, I be wilding out" (Camilo T.)
Once I stayed on the short story "Rashomon" for six weeks. Students were complaining to other teachers. Rondi wouldn't budge. I was waiting for them to complete the assignment. I was waiting. I feel that students crave entertainment from the teacher. Their own success or failure is irrelevant compared to the feeling of moving on, keeping the pace, missing an assignment but thinking the next one will be sufficient. We probably all to some degree pick and choose how we spend our time and as we work our way up the academic ladder we are often afforded more not less choice. In this class, I have ignored some assignments, perhaps doing only those I thought the professors thought were truly essential. But I am not taking the class for credit, so I feel as though I may have some choices, and truly, when I took the class, I knew that I would be pushing it in terms of demands on my time, but I felt that I would do my best to show up and learn, and that would have to be enough.
Why do I think the students feel any differently? They are not leaning forward with anticipation to my next assignment. They frequently forget the assignments I give, remind them off, print up, and consistently write on the board. "You didn't tell us."
Well, "Rashomon" , to me, is an important story. The skills I was teaching were also essential to doing college work. Moving onto another story would not have changed the assignment. So I did not move on. I am not sure if the result of this was just the students thinking I am stubborn or some realizing that I was not going to forget so they may as well do the assigned work.
This semester I assigned a required project for the first marking period. The majority of the students did not do it. Rather than giving up on the assignment, I altered it to be a requirement for the semester. I let the students know I still expected them to do the research and present their work to the class.
Working in the New York City public school system,
I have consistently had to advocate for the rights of no-shows, latecomers, and homework abstainers to an education. When I was a counselor and called a developmental group around a particular topic, I was reminded of the poster of the Vietnam era, "What if they give a war and nobody comes?" I translated it to "What if I give a group and no one comes?" or later as a teacher, "What if I give an assignment and no one does it?"
If one person showed up for the group it became an individual session, and in that strange wisdom of what we cannot plan for that privacy seemed to be what that student needed. To be an effective educator, I consistently need to let go of the needs of others to show and produce numbers and results. So much of what we do cannot be measured. One poet at the Geraldine Dodge festival asked how we can determine the value of a new poem in a student's mind. I need to accept and assess each situation, each student, each class, and do my best to educate who is there, not lament for those who stayed home. I also need to provide work for the students based on what they have been able to accomplish. I do not advocate behavior modification. There is a sufficient amount of reward and punishment in the grading system, the report card. Throughout the semester my job is to instill a love of learning, to teach that education has inherent value. It is neither about the credit nor the grade. Can we find together the timeless beauty of the poetry of Hamlet?
"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?" (II:ii)
The how and why of teaching is as important as the how and why of writing and thinking. I need to see what has been accomplished by the student and move to perfect that work. Last week the students were not ready for their performance exam. I could have ranted and raved and thrown zeros at all. I instead let them rehearse and saw pairs of students concentrating, rehearsing, thinking. The grades were due the next day; I gave them the opportunity to present that next day. The grade deadline was not decided by me.
But I did determine the bottom line for passing, which was a notebook and a performance.
My first experience teaching Hamlet took the whole semester instead of the first marking period. It went on and on and on. My beloved chairperson Robert Johnson assented when I confessed it was taking me and the class time to get through Hamlet. (But I do remember an entire semester of college work on James Joyce's Ulysses) The class culminated in a performance of selected scenes. Some costumes were created. We left the high school building and had use of a small theatre space at the nearby community college. Parents came and cheered.
How to teach Hamlet is a challenge. The language is difficult, yet within the text are passages of profound and poetic significance. The landmark plot points easily stimulate discussion and empathy: Is it acceptable to marry a former spouse's sibling? How does one make sense of an encounter with a ghost? What type of grief is acceptable? Can mourning go on too long? Is revenge on a time-table? What advice can a parent give an adult child? What is the potential damage of rage? What is insanity? What is tragedy? What is Hamlet's quandary? Hamlet is an essential text; it is worth my time as a teacher to attempt to teach this magnificent work. The ghost has made us all swear: "Adieu, adieu, remember me." (I:v) Would you remember an encounter with a ghost, your murdered father?
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