Let me start off by saying I love teaching freshmen. It’s not for everyone, definitely not the faint of heart. But there are so many great things that come with teaching 9th graders: their innocence, their healthy fear of upperclassmen and the high school unknown, their moldable minds, their lack of a filter, their genuine curiosity. Of course there are several not-so-great things that come with teaching 14-year-olds, but most of those will be saved for later posts. (I also love teaching sophomores, who come with their own unique set of opportunities and challenges).
As an English teacher, I love the short stories, poems, and novels I get to read with my students, but every year, I struggle with the idea of teaching The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. I do not like this play. I kind of hate it for many, many reasons. The story is weird. Romeo loves Rosaline and is distraught over her desire to become a nun. The same day he reveals this to Benvolio, he falls in love with Juliet. One thing leads to another and they make terribly irrational decisions that lead to their eventual suicides just a few days after meeting each other.
So, why do I teach it?
The themes: They’re still relevant! Those things are universal, and when my students get it? Well, that’s just amazing.
The characters: Every student in my classroom is, or knows someone who is, Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, Benvolio. They have a mother or a mother figure who is Lady Capulet or the Nurse. They seek advice and guidance from a teacher, coach, or uncle who is Friar Laurence.
So, I teach it. I’m a realist in that I understand not every single student in my classroom is going to ‘get’ what I want them to from Romeo and Juliet, but that’s with anything I teach. I try to do it with humor and grace. I try to make it fun and funny. And I try really hard to get them to see the relevance, to help them make those connections, to encourage them to make better choices because of what they learned from a play.