Making a Personal Statement

Since last we met, a few things have happened. The most relevant (and exciting, and intimidating…) to this blog being:

shakespeare-landing-1

I’ve been accepted into the University of Birmingham Shakespeare Institute’s Masters of Arts in Shakespeare and Education program, which I will start in September 2013. I’m very excited about this , but nervous too – it’s been a long while since I did any sort of study, let alone anything post-graduate. Compounding this anxiety is my seeming inability to do independent work – I’m more of a go-to-class kinda guy, so I need to re-examine my study skills.

At any rate, I’m in, so I thought that I should get this blog up and rolling again.

So, here we are.

Hi.

Below you’ll find the Personal Statement I submitted to Birmingham with my application. I had a 5000 character limit (which was odd, as I have previously been used to word counts) and so much editing was done.

Here it is. My first piece of “academic” writing in over a decade.

Early in my teaching career, I was evaluated by my vice-principal. We had the following conversation:

VP: “You’re using too much Drama in your English class.”

Me: “It’s Shakespeare.”

VP: “Shakespeare isn’t Drama.”

My head nearly exploded.

I started reading Shakespeare early. I read Taming of the Shrew on my own in grade school, and was excited to get to study more of his works in high school. While we read Shakespeare in every grade, it wasn’t particularly inspiring. It felt like my English teachers taught it because they had to, not because they loved it.

In Grade 11, I had the good fortune of being cast as Claudius in a one-act school production of Hamlet. Playing with Shakespeare’s words as they were meant to be played with revived my love for the language. I was also lucky enough to attend a workshop at the Stratford Festival where, with other Ontario students, we saw, heard and experienced Shakespeare’s work with professionals. It was these experiences that kept me interested and hopeful for what I might get to do next.

My University Shakespeare experience was a mixed bag. I took Shakespeare Parts 1 and 2, a survey course which required that we read a play a week for two semesters. I found the pace too much, and the analysis too confusing, and while I passed the first course, I ended up getting a less than satisfactory grade on the second. It was my one of my teaching practica where I got to teach Romeo and Juliet to an enthusiastic group of Grade 4s, thanks to a teacher who believed, as I do, that Shakespeare is not above childrens’ heads. It was a stellar experience.

When I started my teaching career, I expected to bring the joy of Shakespeare my students. If you love the material and understand how it works, you can teach anyone anything.

Sadly, the attitude of many English teachers has been the same as that of my former administrator. Some teachers have the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free series on their shelves, some seek advice, including mine, about how to teach Shakespeare more effectively, but in the end, it’s all for naught. They still view Shakespeare as words on a page, not alive on the Stage. I’ve had many heated discussions over the years with colleagues about the relevance of Shakespeare in the classroom.

Shakespeare can be taught to, and understood by, everyone. I have successfully taught it with students at every Intermediate and Senior level and grade. One of my favourite examples was doing Julius Caesar with a Grade 9 Applied class. Most of these students were “at risk,” and as such, considered incapable. Using a variety of media (text, film, graphic novels) and strategies, we were able to not only “get through” the play, they created their own interpretations.

I have taken advantage of many opportunities to increase my own understanding of Shakespeare. I took programs offered by the Stratford Festival, including their Honours Specialist program in Drama, and participated in the Teaching Shakespeare School with my Grade 11 Drama students. It was through this experience that I got my first “professional” Assistant Directing gig, working on Hamlet for the York Shakespeare Festival in Newmarket, Ontario. It was a trial by fire, but it just served to reinforce how relevant his works still are today.

I have wanted to do a Master’s in a program where I felt that my knowledge of Drama would be augmented since I started teaching,. I thought that my Master’s would be an MFA. There are numerous MFAs geared towards educators in the United States, but I never felt comfortable with the idea of going to the States to study. I generally lean towards the British and Commonwealth ideologies of Drama-in-Education rather than the product-based Theatre-in-Education of the US.

When I discovered the University of Birmingham’s program, I realised that the Shakespeare Institute was a place I could thrive. Reading the prospectus, seeing what modules were available to study, and hearing about the Institute and its relationship with the RSC really inspired and excited me.

I wish to explore how I can become a more effective teacher of Drama, and Shakespeare in particular. How do we make Shakespeare “more relevant,” “more accessible?” What can we do, as teachers, to inspire in our students a love of the language, of the characters, and of the ideas that he shares with us through his work? How do professionals’ interpretations, adaptations and attempts to make Shakespeare more popular affect us as educators, and how can we affect professionals? These are questions I have now, and I am certain that I will be inspired to find more questions over the course of my studies. My long-term goal is to bring my deeper understanding of the text, and of how that text is brought to life, to colleagues in my school and the greater teaching community, but most importantly, to my students.

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