("Tales from the Classroom" is a new feature posted occasionally here at this blog. All tales are true and present matters about which I have personal knowledge. The following tale relates the story of something that happened in August 2013)
Last summer, I tutored two teenaged brothers of Chinese descent, one of the boys a rising seventh grader and the other a rising ninth grader. Both had long been homeschooled and would be entering the honors programs in public school system in September. Not by any stretch of the imagination were these tutoring sessions remedial in nature. One or both of these superior students had already read several works of literature: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Jack London's The Call of the Wild, Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer — as well as many others.
The parents, both immigrants from Mainland China, indicated that they wanted their sons to read additional classic works of literature during the summer. Because neither boy had ever read any Shakespearean plays, I chose Julius Caesar as one of the works to cover. Julius Caesar is the shortest and the easiest of Shakespeare's plays and decided that it was a good choice for the boys' introduction to Shakespearean plays.
I won't say that introducing and studying Shakespearean works in depth is easy. It is not! But we tackled Julius Caesar by my giving the students related historical and cultural background. We also read some of the play aloud together, and I assigned them to read the rest of the play on their own and to watch the 1953 film version at home. At the end of the unit, I administered a comprehensive test on the play. The boys' mother studied right along with her sons; she said that she had read the play before when she was in school in China, but hadn't understood the work well. She wanted her boys to have a better grasp of Shakespeare than she.
Toward the end of the summer-tutoring term, I received a note from the parents, and that note contained what I consider the best compliment I've ever received as a teacher: "Thank you for teaching us more than we expect." In other words, these parents genuinely appreciate setting the bar high.
How I wish that more parents were so dedicated to excellence in education! The Herculean task of teaching would be much more fulfilling if such were the case.
Note: I continue to work with these two fine students every Saturday morning for two hours (SAT verbal prep, vocabulary development, literature, composition, and grammar). Over the Christmas break, I assigned them some "lighter" reading: H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds for the younger, Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain for the older). Noses go back to the grindstone on January 4.