In the spring of 2009, fellow English teachers and I went to a Shakespeare conference. Let me say that Shakespeare is like a drug to high school English teachers. We love him. He is our lover from a past life. We are jealous of any teacher who seems to know him better than we do. We want to live in Stratford-upon-Avon and have his children hundreds of years later. He is that awesome.
At this conference, it is tradition to celebrate the Bard’s birthday (and death day) with a cake. No one blows out the candles on the cake, though, because that would be just weird. Lol.
During these Shakespeare English Teacher love festivals (think the 60s but the dude is not alive and no one has any hallucinogenic drugs), we are usually given some kind of quote from the play being highlighted and we have to think and write about it. I think some of the teachers go into multiple orgasms with this assignment, and one woman even peed herself with excitement. Gasp.
I, however, did not get that warm and fuzzy feeling. Instead, I wanted to crawl under the desk. As much as I love the Bard, I didn’t want to write about one of his quotes under the scrutiny of all of the other English teachers. So I sat there. And sat there. Even my purple Sharpie couldn’t snap me out of it. Here is my quote:
“Am I in Earth, in Heaven, or in Hell? Sleeping or waking, mad or well advised? Known unto these and to myself disguised. I’ll say as they say and persevere so and in this mist all adventures go.”
What the hell did this mean? I looked around the room in horror. I felt that masterpieces were being written and I was just sitting there sniffing my Sharpie. Finally, I put my pen to the paper and here is my (pathetic) response:
OK. I absolutely hate starting writing prompts because I can never figure out what would be the best way to begin. Yet, I give students a prompt almost daily so they can write some BS about whatever I choose is important for them at the time.
Is it a fraud? Am I a fraud? As I look into myself, I was always the “classic underachiever.” I even had a Bart Simpson t-shirt with those exact words on it. I thought it was funny, but after awhile, my mom – the queen of reality checks – said it wasn’t. She went on to say that it was my way to “somewhat” excuse my mediocre grades in high school or to placate my dad when my science and math grades were less than he would have liked (hideous). Self-fulfilling prophecy? Crap. “Allison is horrible at math and science.” Oh. Maybe that is why I didn’t like math from 10th grade on. Hey, Jimmy Buffet wrote a song saying Math Sucks. I am not alone, right? Anyhow.
Sometimes I feel like I am a big fraud as a teacher and it is only a matter of time until I am called out on it. Thanks, Mrs. W., for telling me I didn’t know the first thing about grammar or literary analysis or English. I really appreciate the caring support you gave to a new student – in 11th grade no less, who was brand, spanking new not only to the school district but to the state of Ohio. Who was she to put those incredibly disparaging thoughts into my head? I didn’t ask for that. I really was just trying not to drown in a new town – torn away from all I had known and understood and finally figured out. I was directly deposited into a whole new set of circumstances and patterns and humans I did not know. Difficult? Yeah. A fraud? Who knows.
So, to this day as a teacher, I have had to prove to myself that I am not wearing a disguise. I am not a fraud, although some days feel like it. I am doing exactly what I should be doing with my life. This is what I need to do. And, I even try to make learning fun – because it wasn’t for me and I don’t want any of my students writing about me 20 years later as to how I crushed their spirit.
The quote from Comedy of Errors? It is just an adventure. An adventure in teaching and in knowing, deep down, that I am really not a fraud. Even these excitable English teachers are not frauds. Except for, maybe, Mrs. W., who isn’t here because she doesn’t love Shakespeare like us real English teachers do.