Teacher Talk: Both hockey and literature can prove to be risky businesses

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2003

I have never been labeled as a risk taker. I ask permission to do things. I drive within the speed limit. I wear sensible shoes. Funny thing is, I ask my sophomore literature students to take risks daily.

This fall I thought it was time to take a little risk of my own.

"You're doing what?!" my friends in Texas asked incredulously.

"I can't wait to see a picture of that!" my mom stated emphatically.

"Watch out for your teeth!" my neighbor warned cautiously.

These were only some of the reactions I heard to the prospect of strapping metal blades to the bottoms of my feet, and after the initial rush of registering for the new women's introductory hockey league I was dreading our first game. I'd never been on hockey skates before, nor had I been a team-sport participant since my days of badminton in high school PE class. I needed some help.

I bought gear. I went to an open skate. We had a team practice. All of those things helped alleviate my fear. But nothing did more to squelch the nausea than jumping into that first game. I fell a lot, I didn't play my position very well, and by the end of the hour I had a bruise on my hip the size of a small country and the color of blood. But it was fun enough to come back again the next week.

As I watch my 10th-grade students struggle with literature from around the world, I see some of the same fear and nausea oozing from their pores when I ask them to tackle something in the realm of the unfamiliar - especially when I introduce our Shakespeare unit.

"Can't we just watch the movie?" one of my students asks eagerly.

"Ugh!" someone from the back of the room mutters despairingly.

"We're going to hate this!" a young cherub chimes in despondently.

These were only some of the reactions I heard from my students when we start the unit. For some reason, William Shakespeare has the title of "Most Difficult and Scary Author to Read in English Class." All of the thous, thines, and by-my-troths keep many students from connecting to the words. They need help.

They read it. They analyze the dialogue. They ask questions. All of these things help alleviate their fears. But nothing does more to squelch their nausea than getting up and acting it out. They stumble through the words, they don't quite know where to stand and when to move, and by the end of the period they are tired and worn. But they laugh at the jokes, they discover the crazy subplot, and they understand it enough to try it again the next day.

In making choices about what my students read, I try to find pieces that will make them think - and pieces that they can connect with in some way. If someone can relate to Antigone and understand her struggle against authority, see the value of friendship in an ancient epic or identify with a young boy who defines his life by his passion for a sport, then I know I'm choosing writing that works. Then, I can ask them to read the really hard stuff and find out that "Twelfth Night" is really just a story about love-sick people, meddlers and individuals who are not what they appear to be. Once they realize they already know these people, the rest becomes easier.

Our study of Shakespeare is winding down, and this hockey season is coming to a close. The hockey world and the literature world are ready to collide. Each time I ask my students to read "Twelfth Night" we act out many scenes - including one in which a character dons a pair of yellow stockings to impress a girl. One of my hockey teammates happens to play in a pair of yellow hockey socks. I borrowed them and have them hidden away in my desk drawer waiting for class later this week, when we will ask one brave soul to put them on and strut around the room. One young stalwart will take a risk and run with it.

• Garot teaches English and history at JDHS. She can be seen taking risks on the ice Sunday nights.

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