Students to the north in Poughkeepsie, NY – a historic, sprawling city on the Hudson River – have found a literary champion in middle school English teacher Elizabeth Morehead. Morehead, an educator at Orville A. Todd Middle School, participated in HVSF’s Teachers’ Shakespeare Institute nearly a decade ago. Ten years later, she’s still sharing the energy, methods, and impact she discovered there with her own students:
When I reflect upon my twelve years in teaching English Language Arts on the secondary level, there is one defining moment that changed my approach to teaching literature overall. It was in the summer of 2007 that I attended the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s (HVSF) Teachers’ Institute and suddenly there was a distinctive ”before and after” in my educational methodology.
Over a career in the classroom, a teacher is offered a myriad of professional development opportunities, some more worthwhile than others. During a summer, ten years ago, I was being trained in: using a Smartboard in the classroom, implementing a new online grading system, and tracking students’ achievement in reading using another online program. It was serendipitous that I was then introduced to HVSF. In pursuit of solid techniques to teach Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to eighth grade students, I discovered this organization. What I did not know then was that attending this professional development opportunity with HVSF would not only fortify me with sound educational procedures to teach Shakespeare’s dramas, but it would also impact my approach to teaching literature. I am markedly more confident in my delivery of instruction when tackling Shakespeare and have been asked to teach students and teachers at colleges in the Hudson Valley who are looking for ways to learn or enhance their approach. All of this success I owe to my training with HVSF.
“…it would also impact my approach to teaching literature.”
– Elizabeth Morehead, educator
In both the seventh and eighth grade classroom, I continue to employ methods learned from that very first HVSF Teachers’ Institute and from the close to ten institutes I have attended subsequently. In fact, many of the techniques I use with students are all methods used with the literature we read and analyze prior to diving into Shakespeare. Students are schooled in the methods of working with the text to validate their ideas, choices and stances with poems, short stories, novels and autobiographical works we read. Well before we begin reading and performing Shakespeare, students are accustomed to approaching literature in this manner and that allows us to be able to focus on the rigor of Shakespeare’s writing which very often feels antique and lofty to today’s student.
Because of my work with HVSF’s Teachers’ Institute and the organization at large, I have been able to add Macbeth to our seventh grade curriculum and, in turn, have been given the opportunity of exposing students to Shakespeare at a younger age when they are less hesitant and free from the fear people generally associate with reading, performing, and even watching Shakespeare’s works. I have taken on the responsibility of making most, if not all, of my students’ first experience with Shakespeare positive and highly engaging. I would not be able to do so without the invaluable approaches I have learned with the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.
“I have been given the opportunity of exposing students to Shakespeare at a younger age, when they are less hesitant and free from the fear people generally associate with reading…”
– Elizabeth Morehead, educator
Former students who come back to visit after high school and college continue to reminisce about their Shakespeare experience in middle school. Some students say it sparked a love for his work. Others say, “I wish teachers presented Shakespeare’s plays the way you did,” and many just want to laugh at the memories we made exploring the play through performance. These compliments I owe to HSVF and the methods they have given me over the last ten years in making Shakespeare not just accessible, but memorable to students with a wide variety of abilities.
Thanks, Elizabeth! Learn more about HVSF’s Teachers’ Shakespeare Institute here.