Monday, July 27, 2009

The Hobart Shakespeareans: An Inspiration to the Teaching Profession

— Paul Moliken, Senior Editor

Over the weekend, I settled in front of the television to watch the 2005 made-for-PBS documentary, The Hobart Shakespeareans. After having watched it, I believe this film should most certainly be in the Netflix cue of anyone thinking about becoming a teacher and on the must-see/mandatory viewing list for your classes. It's not a secret that a teacher can make a difference in kids’ lives every year, but
Rafe Esquith truly does in the lives of his under-privileged students. It just goes to show that truth, honesty, and hard work do, in fact, equal results.

Without going into too many details, I originally thought that the movie would be about teaching Shakespeare to young students, which it is, but there this film has so much more to offer. Rafe Esquith, a 49 year-old elementary school teacher in a deprived , mostly non-English-speaking Los Angeles neighborhood, not only has his students learning about The Bard, but also, more importantly, about what’s essential in life. The man is an inspiration to all teachers out there because his methods are perfectly suited to the subjects and the students he teaches. The students are involved, they understand, and (best of all) they respond.

In one telling scene, these ten-year-olds, many of whom live with violence and drugs in their lives, read Huck Finn out loud—the section in which Huck says that he’ll “go to hell” for deciding that Jim should be free—with tears streaming down their faces. They get it. Rafe (which is what they call him) then heightens their understanding by making them see that Huck is wrong in the eyes of his society, and that they must sometimes be themselves.

His job is not all easy, as we see when he disciplines three students, but the fruits of his labor are obvious: Some students return after a few years and help out, and others who have gone on to be financially successful donate money and services to his program to help pay for two trips during the year.

Within the film, we get to see the kids become familiar with a fair amount of Shakespeare. The class will put on Hamlet at the end of the year, and they’ll get it as well. Along the way, Michael York and Sir Ian McKellen visit the class. But it's obvious that Rafe is the star. He makes sure aspirants for the play know that being in it means, “Killing your TV” and “Working harder than you’ve ever worked before.”

One question: Do your students cry when the year is up because they will be leaving your class? It’s obvious that these kids love Rafe. The man is definitely an inspiration to those in the teaching profession.

No comments: