I’ll be teaching again next year the elective ‘English Theatre’ and I’m reconsidering the texts I used 2 years ago. In that edition I asked my students to read two anthologies, Grahame Whybrow’s Modern Drama: Plays of the ’80s and ’90s and Alekz Seirz’s Twenty-First Century British Plays (both Methuen). 10 plays in total, 36 euros.
We worked on dramatised readings of scenes from all of them and seeing how they played out in class, I have decided to replace 50% of the plays with other texts. Now here’s the problem: the only way I have of checking whether the texts I have selected are worth teaching is by reading them, that is to say, by spending my own money (as I did, yes, 2 years ago). In the end I have spent 60 euros on 5 new books (3 single-volume plays, 2 collections by the same author). Single-volume plays are, at around 12 euros, not that cheap considering they’re on average 100 pages long. Yet, there’s no way around it. I have worked out that my students need to spend around 85 for the 10 plays. That’s roughly the price of a cinema ticket per play.
We teachers may purchase books through the library but they remain the library’s property and though we can borrow them for the whole academic year, we can’t make notes on them. The result? The books we buy for the library don’t include the ones we use in class, which we pay for out of our own pocket. A subject can, thus, easily cost each of us, teachers, 100 euros, if only a couple of secondary sources are added. This is why it’s VERY annoying when we see that students don’t buy the books (in time), or use low-quality editions, etc.
Now that I’m planning this subject I’m thus caught between a rock and a hard place: the need to spend my money to offer quality based on an informed choice and the students’ resistance to spending money on books. As usual, I’m possibly going to be unfair to many students but many seem to forget that books are part of the expenses of any university degree. The NECESSARY expenses. I saw the other day in my class a girl who had downloaded and printed an e-text copy of the (copyrighted) novel we’re reading, The Remains of the Day. That is something I will never understand… Back to drama (or to my drama!): If I opt for the cheaper solution (= teaching the same plays as 2 years ago) I do know that 50% of the subject will not be as good as it could; if I cut down the number of plays to, say 5 or 7, it’ll be a pity as that’s all the contemporary English drama (some!) students will read; if I keep the 10 plays, the subject will be rich enough but I’m sure it will all result in rampant piracy of the texts among my not-so-rich students.
I wonder if Medicine university teachers, a degree notorious for the cost of the textbooks, ever consider these matters. (I also wonder how they pay for the said textbooks…). Whatever my final choice is, in consideration of the students’ finances, the bare truth is that I have already spent those 60 euros…