The lesson has reached a high point of dramatic intensity. All eyes are directed at the interactive whiteboard. Macbeth – a scary Patrick Stewart in Rupert Goold’s atmospheric film of the play – has committed bloody murder and there is an incessant knocking sound ratcheting up the emotional temperature.
The porter issues his stream of vulgarities and reluctantly opens the castle’s gates. Yet strangely the knocking doesn’t end; if anything, it is getting louder. The teacher (not me, you understand, but an entirely different person named Graham) presses the pause button and strides to the door.
“Hello everybody!” A manager with an iPad enters the room, her calculating eyes already taking in the number of students and their state of alertness.
“Don’t look so miffed, Graham,” she says. “You were warned that we were planning learning walks this week.”
“Ah yes, Marjory,” says Graham, “learning walks. That invaluable tool in the college’s journey towards excellence.”
“Exactly,” says Marjory. “So let’s get started, shall we?” She looks quickly down the long list of “lesson essentials” highlighted on her electronic device. “What are you doing about employability in this lesson?”
“It’s a literature class, Marjory. It’s not relevant here.”
“Employability is relevant everywhere, Graham. Ofsted says so. A good teacher will always find a way to work it into his lesson.”
Marjory looks at Graham. Graham looks at Marjory. The students look bored.
Graham has a moment of inspiration. “There’s a point in the play, just before the ghost of Banquo scene, where Macbeth takes on two new employees. They are young men whose life experiences have made them completely desperate.”
“Excellent,” says Marjory, “disgruntled Neets. Couldn’t be better.”
“And then, a bit later on, a mysterious third person joins them. Their apprentice, I suppose you might call him.”
“Oh super, Graham. Just super. Everyone loves apprenticeships these days! What are they being employed to do, by the way?”
“I was hoping you weren’t going to ask that. Essentially he’s hiring them to kill Banquo. So I suppose you’d have to call them hitmen.”
Marjory looks up to the heavens and firmly presses delete. “All right, let’s try something else. What about disability awareness?”
“This play was written 400 years ago, Marjory. Demands for wheelchair access to the ale house weren’t so common then.”
“Same deal as before, Graham. The resourceful teacher finds a way. And remember that disability covers a whole range of conditions, not just the physical.”
Losing the plot
“Well,” says Graham, “Macbeth does get a bit paranoid once he’s become king. And Lady Macbeth completely loses the plot in Act 5 when she starts her sleepwalking.”
“Sounds promising,” says Marjory. “But what about outcomes? I presume these two individuals receive a comprehensive programme of treatment via CBT and SSRIs?”
“Not exactly. Lady Macbeth kills herself and her husband is hacked to death by Macduff.”
Marjory gives a long sigh. Presses delete again. “Still, there’s lots more on my list yet: equality and diversity, safeguarding and British values, to name but a few.”
“Anything about what the students are getting from the lesson?”
“Don’t be silly, Graham. You know that nobody wants to know about teaching and learning any more. Now, what measures are you taking to satisfy the Prevent agenda? We all have to be on the lookout for signs of radicalisation in the current climate.”
“Now, that really is a tough one, Marjory. You see, Macbeth is basically about the misuse of power. The central character is working to some sort of supernaturally inspired blueprint and he murders his opponents – women and children among them – without the slightest compunction. And then there’s the little matter of what happens to him at the end.”
“Go on,” Marjory says.
“His head is cut off and it’s brought back on to the stage on a spike.”
“Graham,” she splutters, “the programme is called Prevent, not Encourage! I’m afraid I’ll have no choice but to refer this to the authorities.”
“Ho hum,” says Graham, turning off the film and raising the blinds. “Looks like a change of plan is needed, folks. Please bring your copies of All’s Well that Ends Well for next week.”
Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further education college in London