Much Ado About Teaching

OSF program takes teachers to a new stage of learning
English and theater teachers from Oregon, Washington, California and beyond act out scenes at the Oregon Shakespeare Festivalís Shakespeare in the Classroom series. Those who enroll study select passages, receive lesson suggestions and find ways to connect their students to 16th-century verse and prose.

Barely into their summer vacation, a few dozen teachers spent all last week in an almost-windowless Oregon Shakespeare Festival classroom.

By Friday, they were barefoot, dropping to the floor, standing on chairs, pointing into the distance and screeching, "Banished!"

OSF educational programs

Oregon Shakespeare Festival has several programs for teachers and students. Here are a few:

  • The Bowmer Project for Student Playgoers allows teachers in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Siskiyou counties to apply to receive 11 hours of free training and bring a class to see two free productions. Students also can get a backstage tour, two post-show discussions and a pass to attend free plays during the season if available.
  • The School Visit Program sends teams of actors to high schools in Jackson County.
  • The Ashland Schools Project provides actor visits to middle school and high school students and a ticket for middle-schoolers to see a performance.
  • This fall, every Ashland High School freshman will see "The Taming of the Shrew" after hearing a 30-minute discussion about the play. Actors will talk to the students after the performance.

For more information, call 541-488-5406 or see

"What a smart group of students you are," says Joan Langley, who has been teaching teachers about Shakespeare for 26 years as the festival's education director.

Across the globe, teachers on summer break are conducting field research, racking up certifications online and yes, going back into a classroom to learn more about a subject they love.

School teachers in sweater sets and pearls, or cargo pants and ball caps, come to Ashland throughout the year to learn how to make the Bard more relatable to everyone, from elementary school kids to mid-life college students.

Those who enroll in the weeklong Shakespeare in the Classroom summer program spend long days studying select passages, receiving lesson suggestions and finding new ways to connect their students to 16th-century verse and prose.

Tapping into different modes of learning, they discover how complicated text can be understood with art, music, Renaissance dance, skits and even aerobic chorale readings.

Complex passages are broken up and punctuated by bouts of walking, sitting and standing, or clapping. "You can get really goofy," says Langley, who sometimes uses twists and turns to drill in a sonnet or two.

During the course, the teachers attend lectures such as "Battle of the Sexes: The Taming of the Shrew and the Tamer Tamed." They flip through curriculum books and attend a play each of the five nights.

In between, they eat and commiserate with other busy educators, who are mostly veteran English and theater teachers from Oregon, Washington and California.

"Teachers are the hardest working people in the country," says Kirsten Giroux, OSF's curriculum specialist and course instructor.

Langley agrees: "These are people who care deeply about Shakespeare's work. They have success teaching it, but wonder how they can also make it vital to all kids."

Teachers come from across the country to take the program. But they also come from nearby.

Sharon Weselman of Ashland, who earned a master's in teaching from Southern Oregon University, was granted an $810 scholarship to attend the OSF program.

"I want to be able to make Shakespeare accessible to my students," says Weselman, 30, who plans to teach drama to high school students this fall.

"It's not boring," says Beth Cain, of Midland, Texas, whose tuition and travel expenses were paid for by Fund for Teachers, a Houston-based group that gives preschool to high school teachers money for "learning odysseys."

Jim Shelby, a 58-year-old high school theater teacher from Palo Alto, Calif., has been teaching and directing Shakespeare's plays for 30 years. He says his job could easily fall into a routine.

This program, however, and previous classes he has taken with Langley have been "a shot of energy."

Langley has been teaching so long that she remembers when it was considered revolutionary to get students on their feet to comprehend language arts.

Before the lunch recess on Friday, she offered up practical advice on how to manage a classroom of active Bard learners.

"There are ways," she says, "to curb the enthusiasm" of students who are "all output and no input."

With that description, the teachers, sitting kid-like and cross-legged on the carpet, laughed in recognition.

"It's so great," says Langley, looking around the classroom, "for us to be students."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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