Friday 24 July 2009

Romeo and Juliet and the reason why

Two days ago saw the end of term (big sigh of collective relief there.)So I was sitting in the English office contemplating the summer break on the last morning of term, when one of my Year Tens came in and handed me an essay. Come on! On the last hour of the last morning of the last day? But I gave her a bright smile, thanked her and bade her a good summer. And waited until the door had closed behind her to curse.

Actually, she was only doing what I had asked. I'd handed back the class' first draft of their Romeo and Juliet essays and had suggested in passing, that they should do the rewrite over the summer break, or, if they preferred, they could do it before and I would mark it for the beginning of next term. So, swallowing my unreasonable irritation, I read the first paragraph of her essay. And almost cheered. It was riveting. Enthralled, I read on.

By the time I had finished reading the six pages of closely typed A4 sheets, I had tears in my eyes. OK, I could say it was because I was very tired, or it was an allergic reaction to the accumulation of dust on the table. But these would be lies, because the reason for my reaction was simply the fact that the essay was superb. It was the best thing that I had read for a very long time. I had brilliant students in my last lovely year eleven and I've written loads about them, but this essay was something else. My best students from last year, achieved this quality of writing and understanding towards the end of their final year. This girl, has just turned fifteen. She has another year to go of her GCSE, and she's already writing like a very good A level student.

I've had a lot of fun with this girl while teaching R and J. She adores the play and won't hear a word against it. So needless to say, suggesting that Romeo was a bit of an idiot elicited an interesting response. When I suggested that the main theme of the play was not love, if she'd had a gun she'd have shot me! However, although she (very wisely) totally disagreed with me about a lot of what I said about the play, she's very, very bright and can hold her ground in an argument, something of which I thoroughly approve. And it was this originality that came out in her essay. The question had been about the methods that Shakespeare used to manipulate his audience's emotions in Act 3 Scene 5 (the scene when all Hell breaks loose with Juliet's father.) By the time I'd finished reading her essay, not only was it very clear that she completely understood what the Bard was saying, she'd also shown total engagement with the two lovers. Her work was polished, sophisticated and mature. I could give her nothing lower than full marks.

It's been a difficult term and for various reasons mentioned elsewhere, I was really wondering why on earth I was still doing this job. Then I read this girl's essay on Romeo and Juliet, and I rememered. And I ended the term with a smile.

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