Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When Work Outweighs Reward

I was told today by the summer camp bosses that they'd gotten a complaint last night (someone called at night?) from a parent about the sexual content of the text stuff we did yesterday. Evidently, the student went home and talked to the parent about it, and the parent called the boss, and so I heard. I was asked to tone down the sexual content.

One of the bosses had been there when I'd made the comment, and it hadn't bothered him/her, but nonetheless, a parent complained, so...

I'd like to talk to the parent, but of course, no names were named, except mine.

I wonder if the parent realizes that Shakespeare's comedies are pretty sexual? I'd explained some aspect of the play, not in vulgar language, but in plain language so the students would understand.

The parent (I suspect) is paying for the student to attend the summer camp thing, but I wonder if they really realize what Shakespeare's doing with these comedies? Or did s/he just think that it's old, and since no one had sex before 1967, and Shakespeare is high culture, there'd be no mention of sex?

Anyway, it's frustrating because I'm really there to help students understand the language and contexts and such. And I work hard to do a good job; it takes more time to prep than to do my teaching. And so I was thinking, and did some math. If you count the prep time, I'm being paid about $6.00 an hour.

I'm obviously not in this to make big bucks, if I were, I could probably make more at McDonalds or something; in fact, I'm willing to pay to learn stuff plenty of times. So being minimally paid if there are other rewards is something I can accept.

Seriously, Shakespeare is a pretty good reward much of the time.

But I think I've hit the point where the work outweighs the reward, and I'm thinking I won't return for next year's camp.


  1. Sounds as though the parent is the one who needs the education. As best I can tell, some people figure Shakespeare's people wear funny clothes and hence don't have sex. Or something.

  2. Anonymous7:44 PM

    It's a funny assumption, that because it's old it isn't going to be at all sexual, but people certainly make it. agree with undine...someone needs an education here and it isn't the student.

  3. Anonymous7:47 PM

    "Or did s/he just think that it's old, and since no one had sex before 1967, and Shakespeare is high culture, there'd be no mention of sex?"


  4. I'm surprised that the "intelligent design" people haven't argued that the "creator" just whisked us all into being before 1967, when people took matters into their own ... bodies... and discovered they could make their own dang babies.

    I worry sometimes that my son, named Will after... well, you know... is going to hate Shakespeare because I love him so much. My plan? I'll say, "Hey, kid, there's a lot of sex and violence in there. You should check it out." He'll need therapy for ages.

  5. I realized a while back that, if I did the math to figure out the hourly rate for things like your camp, I've generally hit the 'they can't pay me enough to do this again' place. The only exception is summer teaching, but then the money is pretty much the only motivator and it's pretty good :).

  6. This summer I've been hanging out with friends who have toddler-aged children. I didn't realize what a potty mouth I've become until I tried to tone-down my effing patois for the younger listeners.

    This is not to say that what you said was at all inappropriate. I'm sure it wasn't. It's all about perception, though, isn't it? And the thing is, Shakespeare knew that. That's why he perfected the art of euphemisms.

  7. Oy. I think you are right -- you worked really hard to figure out how to present this stuff to students and if the camp won't support you? No. But Twelfth Night? Seriously? You need to be able to say what's there, and what everyone is seeing.

    You could, of course, always talk about how many people shared a bed...

  8. I feel like the camp deserves a chance to back you up, if you let them know this is a dealbreaker. Any parent who doesn't back down when faced with, "we have the honor of a phd-holding college professor teaching your child, and Shakespeare is bawdy, to tone it down is to disrespect a great writer" should be asked not to send their child to the type of intellectual project this camp seems to be. I doubt the camp has thought it out, but merely passed on a message. Do they realize how much of a line this is for you?

  9. OK, my bad attitude's showing . . . but I would be tempted not just not to tone it down, but to tone it up, so to speak. Explain all the bawdy language, talk about the farthest-out interpretations, all in a thoroughly scholarly way (with citations), of course.

  10. Wonder if that parent has read his or her Bible lately, either.

  11. i think you are probably one of those teachers the campers will remember, for treating them like the near-adults they are, and treating this as an academic exercise instead of babysitting.

    these are high school students, right? i am 100% sure they hear worse at slumber parties and see worse on the internet.

    and parents who can afford to send the darlings to a shakespeare camp presumably have the ability to find out [and probably should know already] that shakespeare is bawdy.

    i'm with the other commenters, the camp should back you up. the kid involved would likely be mortified to learn that parents thought content should be modified to protect his/her young mind from corruption.

  12. i really agree with dance's comment. the camp person probably got this call and passed it along immediately, without thinking much about it.

    my word verification is "inflated."

  13. I would talk to the camp and tell them if that's the case, you will not be back next year. Seriously. Either they back you on this, or they find someone else.

  14. They've probably only heard tell of Shakespeare or seen some bowdlerized versions. I'd agree that it's time to pass the torch on to someone else given the large amount of time you're putting into an increasingly aggravating obligation!

  15. I agree with Janice's comment that they've only seen bowlderized versions - that's what we had in my high school and my undergrad degree didn't require me to have any Shakespeare. Regardless, the complaint is a bit silly.

    And, I think the camp should have been better prepared for this - maybe it will be in the future. Somewhere in the camp brochure or whatever material it has, they could mention that certain topics might come up in relation to the text and that if parents are uncomfortable with that, this might not be the camp for their kids. Libraries/librarians have to deal with similar issues all of the time - that's why they tend to have collection policies in place. The camp could easily have a policy regarding intellectual freedom.

  16. i agree, the camp needs to have some kind of statement and set response to this kind of complaint. whether or not you remain - this is a policy issue that needs some thoughtful response.

  17. I sympathise deeply. There's an unspoken assumption that anything in Shakespeare we don't understand must be dirty. Thus, the title Much Ado About Nothing is obscenely misogynous and all references to 'wit' as in the Nurse's chiding of Juliet must have a genital subtext. (Whatever did Sidney really mean by 'an erected wit' in his Defense of Poesy?

    There's some interesting chat about wordplay - and the Elizabethan connotations of 'wit' - in an archived post at: yeomaniana.blogspot.com.