There are few things that ever change in public school- Shakespeare, for example. I, for one, seem to be the only one in favor of that. If you were a fly on my wall in my fifth period Freshman class this past week you may have mistaken it for an auction. “Who wants to be Romeo today?” “Romeo, anybody?” “Romeo, going once, going twice…” Kids are just not interested in the tragic plight of the star-crossed lovers. I have no idea why. It’s full of violence and sex, baudy humor and horror-everything they seem to “be into”, as they say.
Needless to say, after the fourth day of cohercing them, bribing them, screaming at them and threatening them I had quickly run out of options and I resorted to the “I am a terrible teacher” standby. I brought in the movie.
However, I did’t bring in just any Romeo and Juliet- Mr. Zeferelli, I mean no offense-but Baz Lurhmann’s action packed, pretty face-filled animated and theatrically colored “Romeo and Juliet.”
The scene was beautifully played out as they walked in to a dimmed room and the all too familiar blue screen.
“Yo, Mrs. S, we watchin a movie?” Oh yes, I nodded.
“It ain’t gonna be that old Romeo sh*t, is it?” Oh, no I smiled. Not that old Romeo sh*t. During the opening scene I sat at my desk to watch their faces and grinned wickedly at my immediate victory. No one has complained in 5 minutes. No one has thrown anything. Gotten in my face. Asked for the pass. Gotten something in their eye. Recieved a purple nurple. All is silent- save the echo of glocks and shouting, and an occasional musing from Mr. DiCaprio.
“Yo, Mrs. S they got guns?!?” “That sh*t is wack” are the only comments as the movie progresses. The girls sigh during the love scenes. The boys tap each other during the gun fire. But the best thing is- they are learning without having any idea. I am brilliant.
I have to stand to get ready to turn it off- the period will be over in 2 minutes. In the flickering blue glare I detect the tear-streaks on a few girls faces as Romeo takes his final swallow of the poison that will kill him. As I stride toward the television to cut it off, the room echos with the first sounds from living beings that I have heard during the entire period- “NOOOOOOOOOOO” they bellow in unision with the bell. They all get up- to crowd around the screen to catch Juliet’s last breath before she blows her brains out. Shouts rise up- the first not to come from Leo. My kids are yelling. Screaming even. Kicking desks. They are angry. They are more than angry. Maybe I am not so brilliant.
“Why it gotta end like that, Mrs. S? Shakespeare some kinda sick ****?” “I mean, what the ****?” “Come ONNN!” I’m trying to keep the peace. Trying to explain. This is a tragedy. “Why the hell didn’t you tell us that???” I again, peddle quicker, saying I did. You just weren’t listening. You needed to witness.
They are all late for their next class but I am trying not to think of how many calls I will be getting to my room. I am secretly thrilled at the idea of having to explain to my co-workers how my students couldn’t get enough of old William today. The screen fades to black and they reluctantly shuffle to the door but not before of them turns around,
” Hey Mrs. S? If we read tomorrow, I’m Romeo- a’ight?”