My teaching career, which has not really ended despite superannuation from the profession over two decades ago, is wonderful to celebrate during Shakespeare 400, the year marking William Shakespeare’s death in 1616.
Fifty years ago I was a novice, teaching English, History and associated subjects in Kinistino, Saskatchewan, a rural community about two hours northeast of Saskatoon.
Teaching there was a delight for this city kid. The students were every bit as full of zip, mischief and talent as any I’ve known anywhere, before or since. Among them were the brilliant, the reluctant, the achievers, and those who simply could not care less, so long as the school dances and parties were frequent and fun.
The tie-in to Shakespeare and the celebration is not about me. It is about the amazing, heart-rending efforts of two farm lads, Donald and Les. Neither was a strong student. Both were frankly incapable of managing the work of senior English literature and composition. The dilemma was: what to do with the boys while their classmates were reading Hamlet, looking at soliloquies and language formation from the master playwright and discussing meaningfully, in prose, what they had learned. Alternatives were not prescribed in the Saskatchewan curricula of those days.
Donald and Les met with me privately one noon hour. One could not keep farm kids after school; they headed home on buses to work at various chores. But they were happy to meet at noon, perhaps because I offered them a coffee – something seldom done.
I told them the upcoming unit of work was very challenging and that they could play an important part in making it understandable for themselves and their classmates. I asked them to undertake some research about the Globe Theatre and present that to the class. For this effort, they would be evaluated and given a mark. They asked questions about the length of their report, and whether they would be obliged to do an oral presentation to their classmates (something they abhorred) or whether they could just turn in a written description, with some drawings.
Rather than making a firm decision then, they were asked to begin with some books the three of us would locate from various sources: the school library, the regional library, other individuals and sundry possibilities in magazines or home collections in the community.
Something caught their fancy and the boys jumped into the project. They were excused from the daily English literature classes so they could pursue their research. They read widely, they asked for pictures, they sought out any information anybody in the school or the community might have. In short, Donald and Les became far more knowledgeable about the Globe Theatre’s construction, design and use for staging the bard’s plays than the teacher.
And then, the magic. One noon hour they asked for a meeting. Shyly, they asked if I would provide money for the materials to build a model of the Globe. It was an easy and positive response. We made arrangements with the shop teacher to provide access to his teaching area when they were working on the construction. They made a model that was about four feet high and as wide, and where the original Globe Theatre had a stage with a trap door their model replicated that. In short, they modeled the Globe.
The school year ended. The boys asked if they could keep the model with them, because they had ideas about taking it to regional fairs and exhibitions and putting it on display. They were a hit. They won prizes, ribbons and money, and were featured in several community weekly newspapers.
Did they learn anything in their Shakespeare class? I would like to see them now and ask them what they recall. Did I learn anything from them? More than anyone might guess.
In 1969 when I moved to Lethbridge, Alberta, the model of the Globe went with me. I used it in my teaching in several classes and then, when I transferred into administration, I gave the model to the school where it was stored in a dusty hole under a stage for years. Now it is likely long gone, but those young men and their efforts remain among my most poignant memories of teaching.
Illustration: public domain
First published in Education Canada, September 2016