London, England – A teacher from the Thomas Tallis school is facing harsh criticism after asking 60 high school aged students to write suicide notes.
The assignment was for students to write notes from the perspective of Lady Macbeth who takes her own life out of guilt in Act 5 of Macbeth. Parents were outraged when they learned of the assignment since so many of the students were close to students who had taken their lives. Other parents questioned the assignment for students who were already struggling with depression and wondered what it might do to students who may already have been contemplating suicide.
One mother was disgusted by the assignment, her own daughter had lost three friends to suicide and was concerned about the impact that writing such a note would have on the girl. Other parents expressed that it was fine to study Shakespear, but there had to be a line drawn at what the students were expected to do during those studies. Parents suggested that teachers who proposed the exercise should be forced to go back to teacher training.
Carolyn Roberts, headteacher of the school, met with concerned parents and expressed that the school was looking into the assignment and that it would not be repeated. She went on to issue an apology on behalf of the school;
“A parent contacted us with concerns about a written exercise given to a class during studies of a play by Shakespeare. The exercise was given to a class who had been studying Macbeth as part of a year 8 English lesson.
“The exercise was to write a suicide letter from Lady Macbeth to Macbeth explaining her decision to kill herself. The exercise is a well-known method for getting students to understand this dramatic twist in the play. The teacher who set the exercise is very experienced. Indeed, the exercise has been praised at a recent Ofsted inspection for the progress made by pupils studying the play.
“We appreciate that the exercise was upsetting to the family and have discussed the subject matter and approach with teaching staff. I met with the parent last week and apologized wholeheartedly on behalf of the school and reassured them about the actions that have been taken. The parent accepted the apology in a meeting that was friendly and cordial.
“We care deeply about the emotional wellbeing of our students and of course wish no distress to be caused to any of our students – all we can do is hold discussions and debates on topics such as these in a supportive and sensitive way. Had we been aware of any students who would have found the exercise upsetting then we would, of course, have taken a different approach. We have listened to the concerns raised by this debate and will not run the exercise again.
“I apologize again, for any distress that this may have caused to the family.”
While anyone studying Shakespear may indeed benefit from a closer look into the mind of the characters, and as well meaning as this assignment was, amidst the recent rise in suicides the assignment was perhaps done in poor taste. There seems to be a lack of understanding when it comes to what students are experiencing in the real world versus the world of a play from hundreds of years ago.
Read a Facebook post from the Thomas Tallis School regarding the incident.