Ten years ago, I was teaching second grade, my first year as an elementary school teacher. With a fondness for Shakespeare and a desire to try something, anything, to garner my students’ attention, I decided to read some of Shakespeare’s plays, adapted into story versions, to them.
They loved the stories. Sword fights and betrayal, love and tragedy, large-scale battles and even a few laughs, the kids ate these stories up and kept asking for more. At the end of the year, that class of second graders performed an adaptation of Julius Caesar, a shortened version of the play that retained all of the original language, that brought down the house.
Since that year, I have introduced Shakespeare to all of my students, both the third graders that I taught for eight years and the fifth graders who I teach today. And each year, the end-of-the-year plays become longer and more elaborate. I have a stage in my classroom now, complete with lighting, curtains, props and sets with which we perform Shakespeare’s stories for parents, students and community members.
Last year my class of fifth graders performed Julius Caesar again, the first time that I have ever repeated a play, and much to my surprise, five of the students from that original second grade cast showed up to watch the performance, including the lead, a young lady who I will call Beth, who did a marvelous job portraying the would-be emperor.
Yesterday I received an email from Beth that read:
Hi Mr Dicks!
I just wanted to let you know that I found your book in a bookstore called Bunches of Grapes on Martha's Vineyard. It was in the staff picks section.
I can’t tell you how rewarding it is when my life as an author and my life as a teacher collide. To think that Beth, who will be a senior in high school this year, was still excited enough about her second grade experience to return to my classroom to see the play in which she once starred, and was then willing to take the time to email me after finding my book in a bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard, answers the questions that I often get:
Why are you still teaching?
Can’t you stay home and write for a living?
Couldn’t you write faster if you quit your day job?
There are many, many reasons why I remain in the classroom and am in the process of preparing for my eleventh year of teaching, but students like Beth are the primary answer to those questions.
To miss the opportunity to have someone like her in my life would have been worse than any tragedy that Shakespeare could have imagined.