The Tempest

tempestMy most persistent “You’re not helping me” student– let’s call her X– surprised me yesterday.

I need a pencil.

I don’t have my book.  You didn’t tell us to bring it.

You’re not helping me.  

Can I go to my locker to get __________?

If I hear any of these one more time, I may do as I threatened: cut off a finger and feed it to the biology room’s famous turtle, Limpy.  Or I may smile and say, “Hm.”  Or I may begin a logical discussion of why I am still enforcing the same rules I’ve enforced all year, “To make you more responsible.”  It’s hard to say what I will do, or which idea is the craziest.

Last week X put her head down and tried to sleep for most of class.  With ten minutes left, after repeated prodding, she sat up and spent three minutes looking for quotes from the novel we’d read.  “I can’t find anything,” she said.

“You didn’t look hard enough,” I said.

“You have to help me!” she said.

“No, I don’t,” I said.  “You have to look until you find it.”  I really wanted to kill her, but instead I said that.  She did not, as she sometimes does, threaten to bring her mom up to the school to reprimand me for how I treat students.  Teachers may indeed be reprimanded for: tone of voice, look on face that hurts student feelings.

Yesterday X was sitting in the back of the row.  It was time to work on essays again.  She turned around and pulled a copy of The Tempest off the shelf behind her.  “I want to read this.  I want to read Shakespeare today.  Here, I’ll read the first part.  You read the second one.”

The rest of the class was doing what they would do.  And damnit if I didn’t want to read some Shakespeare, something beautiful, instead of nagging the kids to study for their final.  So I crouched down next to her desk and read with her.




Here, master: what cheer?


Good, speak to the mariners: fall to’t, yarely,
or we run ourselves aground: bestir, bestir.

I was wearing heels, so it was hard to crouch, but I didn’t want to walk away and get a chair and break the spell of whatever was happening.  I miss reading Shakespeare with my class.  I miss it very much.  I teach The Crucible now, and it works really well.  It’s not Shakespeare.  Shakespeare and the Bible, for a writer, are like going into the rainforest.  Life all around you, growing and growing crazy.

None that I more love than myself. You are a
counsellor; if you can command these elements to
silence, and work the peace of the present, we will
not hand a rope more; use your authority: if you
cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make
yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of
the hour, if it so hap. Cheerly, good hearts! Out
of our way, I say.

X was a good reader.  She flowed through Shakespeare pretty smoothly, with solid pronunciation and occasional appropriate inflection.  She stopped briefly for the oddest words, and only once asked me how to pronounce something.  The class fell into two halves, the ones who would work without me, and the ones who wouldn’t.  She turned a page.

If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to the welkin’s cheek,
Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,
Dash’d all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
Against my very heart. Poor souls, they perish’d.
Had I been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere
It should the good ship so have swallow’d and
The fraughting souls within her.

And the older I get, the more I love The Tempest.  It’s a play for older people, control freaks, people who have struggled with betrayal and loss and creative power.

“We read Hamlet last year.  It was great.”
Hamlet is great,” I said.  “I wish I could just sit here and keep going, but I have to help some of these other people.”
“Okay,” she said.
“You’re a good reader.  You’re going to be great when we read a play next semester.”

No harm.
I have done nothing but in care of thee,
Of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter, who
Art ignorant of what thou art, nought knowing
Of whence I am, nor that I am more better
Than Prospero, master of a full poor cell,
And thy no greater father.

2 thoughts on “The Tempest

  1. Well, the comment that I have to say is that this was funny as heck when I started reading it. As I read on I got more settled and thought that about wraps it up with the complex yet simplicity of Shakespeare. I’d like to hang that bit from The Tempest on a wall in my classroom. Thank you for all of this.

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