Have you ever found yourself dreading the upcoming unit/novel/play? Do you put it off and hope you run out of time to teach it? Too often English teachers are corralled into teaching specific texts by people who don’t have to teach those texts. These texts are not ones that they are passionate about. And in the end, student learning suffers. So my number one piece of advice for English teachers is to teach your passion – whether that is Shakespeare, Mythology, John Steinbeck, or anyone or anything else.
Let me start by telling a story.
I was a first-year teacher at a school for Youth in Custody. The other English teacher I worked with had been teaching for 20 years and was amazing. She had this energy and personality that I (as an introverted teacher) did not have.
Around January of my first year, I hated what I was teaching every day. I wanted to teach Romeo and Juliet with the students but was advised not to by the other English teacher. I decided to do it anyway. I knew that the students, many of whom were gang members, would easily identify with the Capulets and the Montagues. And I just loved it. I loved reading Shakespeare. [I personally think his plays would make great plot lines for scripted reality television shows, but, hey, to each his own.]
So, I did it. I taught it. I found a simplified version and off I went. For the first time that year, I taught something because I wanted to and not because it was what someone else thought I should teach. I taught my passion and you should teach your passion!
Too often in English classrooms, we have people – whether they are students, parents, other teachers, administration, coaches, district, board members – tell us what we should be teaching. Or more specifically, what we shouldn’t be teaching.
Why? Because they don’t like or agree with it. Because they don’t think kids today will connect with it. Because they think it isn’t “right” for our students.
But here’s the thing – when English teachers teach texts that they love, they are better teachers. Period.
I remember being forced to teach The Red Pony by John Steinbeck in my student teaching. It was awful. I didn’t connect with it. So, I didn’t do it justice. I think we read it in 7 days – we flew through it, so I could get to teaching something I wanted to teach.
It doesn’t matter if the text you are forced to teach is good or not – we just don’t do as good of a job teaching it if we aren’t passionate about it.
Because of the way standards are written in ELA, we can teach almost any text and still fulfill standards. Theme. Check. Character. Check. Argument. Check. Just as we can write an informational paper on any topic, we can teach theme using any novel, short story, or poem we wish.
So, teach your passion! Fight for the texts that you can teach well and texts you want to teach. Focus on teaching those standards and skills using the texts you choose.
Oh, and by the way – my gang member students … LOVED Romeo and Juliet. They even asked to rewrite it into modern text and performed 5 of these rewritten key scenes for the school and families.
I think I was supposed to teach Antigone. I’m so glad I didn’t.
And after that – I taught Shakespeare every year. It became one of the favorite units of the year – for me and for my students.