Julie Brehove ’11’s freshman English class had just finished their reading of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the subject of today’s class discussion was “Who’s to blame?” in this tragedy. The Montague or Capulet parents? Friar Lawrence or the Nurse? The lovers themselves? Mrs. Brehove will soon be giving every student an opportunity to give their best arguments for who was most guilty, and why. But she encourages all aspects of the debate, asking everyone to defend and blame at will, and to change allegiances at any point. But before the incrimination-fest begins, Mrs. Brehove primes the day with a game, of sorts. “Prepare yourselves,” she teases the class, “We are in Kahoot! mode.”
For those uninitiated to Kahoot!...it is like a quiz. But also a competition. A quiz-petition? Basically it has all of the appeal of a trivia night but the added bonus of reinforcing the course material. Every student logs in on Kahoot! and question after question is asked about the play. The multiple choice questions are livened up with screenshots from the Shrek movies, and points are given both for the most accurate and fastest answers. Striving to win the digital trophy brings out a truly energetic match.
“I really enjoy when we play games as a class,” says Kaitlyn Espinoza ’24. “It really engages everyone, and when I have fun while learning, I tend to retain more material.”
Mrs. Brehove has an effervescent personality, in addition to being a vibrant listener as well. She has the talent of being able to echo student opinions back at them, and as she amplifies these comments, they are also reliably infused with another level of literary insight. This creates a dynamic class environment, with a lot of keen contributors. The “forbidden romance” of Romeo and Juliet, which tends to be a major theme people bring up when discussing this play writ large, is something Mrs. Brehove’s class hardly mentions at all. They are engaging with this material on their own terms, focusing more on the realistic (and more psychologically healthy!) criticism of the love affair. Lucia Derriman ‘24 says that Romeo shares a lot of the blame of the tragedy saying, he “was blinded by his infatuation towards Juliet and that kind of caused him to make some risky decisions.” And Emma Mendoza Munoz ‘24 agrees. She says Romeo is “impulsive which makes him high-risk and dangerous.” She continues, “the balcony revealed a lot about his character because he didn’t have any concerns about Juliet’s safety… if they got found out.” Emma explains she “feels bad for Juliet” because she seemed more of a “rebound,” and that Romeo “moved on from that nun lady really fast.”
Mrs. Brehove is visibly tickled that Emma refers to Romeo’s past object of affection, Rosaline, as “that nun lady.” Mrs. Brehove tells the class that in a different version of this text, she has seen Rosaline referred to as “what’s-her-face.” At the beginning of the play, Rosaline has joined a convent, leaving Romeo heartbroken—although he transfers his affections over to Juliet at lightning speed. Mrs. Brehove builds from this line of thinking, asking the class the next relevant question: “Is it Juliet? Or is it just someone?”
Anna Kingston ‘24 synthesizes these elements of the conversation in her own analysis: “I think Romeo was probably more in love with the idea of love, more than being in a relationship with Juliet.”
What is so impressive about this class is how lively their conversation really is. There is rarely a lull. This would be much more understandable if this were a class full of seniors, who had known each other for years. But these are freshmen, and although they are gearing up to be on campus very soon, they have never actually been in a physical classroom together. So an engaging class debate like this does double duty, both intellectually and interpersonally. These students have been building strong connections between each other, one Zoom call at a time.
“It’s been hard to get to know each other well with the remote setting, but by talking about how we see things and connecting over different stories, we’ve been able to learn more about each other,” says Tamtawan Venice Jithavech ‘24. “I really enjoy the class discussions. Not only does it allow us to help each other understand the material better, but it also helps us see each other’s different perspectives.”
A former Mayfield student herself, Mrs. Brehove professes a special affection for teaching to this age group, “I love ninth grade. I have had experience working with students at all grade levels and there's something to love about each of them. I just really connect well with the ninth grade...they are so eager...I love that enthusiasm.”
Part of Mayfield’s “tech cohort,” Mrs. Brehove brings technology into her Zoom classroom whenever possible, not just Kahoot! There are also Jamboards and digital notebooks and annotation tools, and she’ll try anything once. And when it comes to Shakespeare, Mrs. Brehove allows some of her approach to lean into absurdity. “I know Shakespeare can be kind of intimidating, and I think some kids dread it because...it's really hard to understand...there are a lot of words that are unfamiliar, but I think what's interesting is that they get more and more comfortable with it.” So making fun of mopey Romeo, suggesting that the nurse might have the hots for Paris, or joking about how Friar Lawrence’s “text message” was never sent, seems to have the effect of everyone feeling like they are all in on the same joke.
When these English students are asked their favorite reading assignments of the year, the gamut runs from Jamaica Kinkaid to Sophocles. But a surprising number of the class actually chooses Romeo and Juliet, even though many of them read the story in middle school as well. Monica Zepeda ‘24 says, ”This English class is different from my junior high classes because in Mrs. Brehove's class, we focus a lot more on analyzing the text and gaining new perspectives on events, characters' ways of thinking, etc. We highlight the "why?" and "how?" And Lucia expands on that idea more. “Being familiar with the story already, I enjoyed reading the tragedy in full and discussing the events as a class,” says Lucia. “In my junior high classes, there was more of a focus on writing factually...Mrs. Brehove gives us the freedom to express our opinions in our writing freely, and we are encouraged to include our opinions and expand our ideas.”
By the end of this “blame game” from this class, the Capulet and Montague parents are mainly off the hook. The Nurse is treated pretty lightly too. Friar Lawrence takes some flak. But the group seems to think that Romeo and Juliet are the most accountable for their actions, and Romeo even more so. After class, Mrs. Brehove explains that another section of this class arrived at a different conclusion—and placed much more blame on the adults in the story. But it is a further testament to how the students feel liberated by Mrs. Brehove’s class structure, allowing all the iconoclastic student impressions to surface naturally.
And if Mrs. Brehove enjoys the enthusiasm of 9th graders, the feeling is mutual. Juliet Esparza ‘24 says, “I really enjoyed these activities because they involve the whole class and make the story interesting.” And Kaitlyn wholeheartedly agrees, “I like the way that Mrs. Brehove interacts with us, and creates different ways of explaining, so that we as her students understand the subject well.” Suffice to say, even when this class environment shifts over to a hybrid/in-person model, it seems that the teacher and students are very likely to remain in cahoots.