Why I Went From Teaching Tales & Legends to Writing Them
By Cheryl Carpinello
As a high school English teacher for over 20 years, I worked with literally thousands of students. (Boy, that sounds daunting, doesn’t it!) Together, we read and discussed stories and poems from around the world. Authors like Hemingway, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Homer, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, William Golding, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, William Harding, Chaucer, and Tennyson. And we wrote. Some did more than others.
I’d always had avid readers just as I had those students who struggled or refused to read. Thankfully with the right encouragement, my students wrote. It was reading that taxed my skills, particularly with my freshmen…until one year.
One of the anthologies that I’d used had a section on Arthurian Legend. So I thought, why not? I had stumbled upon a gold mine. My freshmen readers loved exploring the stories. Even better, my freshmen who struggled with reading sat by themselves or in small groups to read the stories.
I was elated, but I had another test for Arthurian Legend…my juniors. Together we travelled through the ancient stories and plays. They enjoyed these once into them. We always did these as a whole class. However, my struggling readers still would not read on their own. Until…you guessed it…I gave them Arthurian stories to read. It amazes me to this day. The fascination for Arthurian Legend still appeals to so many. (You can read my blog post Some Legends Do Live Forever at https://jillsheets.blogspot.com/2018/10/some-legends-do-live-forever-by-cheryl.html.
While I was thrilled that something encouraged my students to read, there is another reason why I decided to write Tales & Legends. When introducing the Arthurian stories, I would ask the kids what they knew about King Arthur. I received a barrage of information. Then when I asked what they knew about Guinevere, I was given the same three pieces of information. She married Arthur; she cheated on him with Lancelot; and she caused the downfall of Camelot. One or two years I could see getting those answers, but year after year for 10+ years? This was the deciding point for me.
When I contemplated retiring, I gave a lot of thought to what I would do. I decided to use the gold mine I had found so many years before and hopefully help kids not only get excited about Arthurian Legend, but to get excited about reading. And I decided to start with Guinevere, a seemingly misunderstood woman from the Legend. Starting at the elementary school level gave me the opportunity to introduce kids to a younger, more innocent Guinevere and build on her character.
I would be able also to reach those Reluctant Readers much sooner. Maybe, just maybe, those young reluctant readers would become readers by the time they reached the high school.