I need advice on how to play catch-up.I am a late blooming college student, studying to be an english teacher.  I feel like  I am in literary black hole.  Can someone make some suggestions on...

I need advice on how to play catch-up.

I am a late blooming college student, studying to be an english teacher.  I feel like  I am in literary black hole.  Can someone make some suggestions on how I may play catch up.  Sometime age does not mean knowledge

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You know what I would do?  (And, quite honestly, I think you could probably do this in a summer.)  Bypass all of the (wonderfully fabulous) college texts with in-depth analysis and many works from every author in every age.  Get your hands on three texts from your local high school:  an American Literature text, a British Literature text, and (if possible) a World Literature text.  If all you can acquire is a student version, that would be okay.  However, a teacher's edition would be better.  Skim and read according to your interest.  This will give you a GREAT overview of literature (including an easy-to-read history behind each period).  It will also expose you to the most famous pieces that you will eventually be teaching, with the questions included for you.

Further, you could call that same local high school and ask for the core curriculum for 9th-12th grade.  They will tell you the novels that will accompany the text.  Just off the cuff, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, The Merchant of Venice, Lord of the Flies, The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Macbeth, Pride and Prejudice, Pygmalion, The Importance of Being Earnest, Hamlet, Wuthering Heights, and Return of the Nativeare required.  While you skim the text, I would suggest actually reading any of those you haven't read before and then exploring eNotes about each one to gain some general knowledge of analysis.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with brettd in his suggestion to focus on a few "major" books that come up here and read them in terms of widening your base. One thing I have done is gone to the groups page where they list all the groups in order of how many people have joined them, clearly indicating the top "greats" that are worth reading and studying yourself. Above all though, I would say don't lose your enjoyment of reading. Don't read books just because you feel you have to read them, as it rather takes away the whole point of becoming an English Teacher in the first place!

I also agree with booksnmore - one of the best ways of learning about a book is to teach it! There is such a big difference between reading a book ourselves personally and then having to prepare it to teach it to a class - you get to know it a lot more intimately! So, on the one hand, whilst it is important to expand your literary knowledge base, on the other hand, I wouldn't worry about trying to read everything - as an avid reader who did an English degree and has been teaching literature for 10 years, I am still coming across "great" books that I have never even read. I am also coming across books that I did read a while ago, but the process of having to teach them completely transforms their significance for me. So, above all, ENJOY any reading you do and don't feel it is a duty.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Something I did when I was pressed for time or when the literature I needed to read wasn't to my liking was to get the audio version.  Be sure it is unabridged, and then listen to is as you follow along in your text.  It is easy to rewind and listen again, or pause to take notes or jot down a connection, prediction, allusion, etc.  This way, you are able to read the book relatively quickly (in some cases of difficult material, much more quickly than I would be able to on my own since I tend to look for distractions if the material is overly difficult or uninteresting at first).

With Shakespeare, I rented all the plays on video and watched along with reading to catch all the little references, etc. that I might have missed by just reading or just watching. 

Keep in mind that for students who have trouble reading or understanding difficult vocabulary and/or language (Chaucer, Beowulf, Shakespeare, other older English works or translated works) that these audio/video versions are also a huge help to them and their understanding.  The only drawback is if you or your students choose abridged or inaccurate versions to watch or listen to for help.

ajmchugh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I love this question!  I think one of the best things someone in your situation can do is try to learn a little bit about a wide variety of literature.  Then, with that background knowledge, you'll be able to narrow your focus once you get a specific teaching assignment (American Lit, for example). 

I've found that the best way to do this is to get books like The Book of Great Books, The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, and the New York Public Library Literature Companion.  I even have a copy of Sparknotes 101: Literature, which provides an overview of 150 novels and plays. 

Skimming through books like this will allow you to participate in discussions about books you haven't read cover-to-cover; you'll also have a good overview of plots and characters of important works of literature.   

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'll assume you mean how can you read/learn about a base of literature relatively quickly so you can start teaching better prepared?  I teach history, not English, but one way in which I like to increase the amount and type of literature I am familiar with is by reading all or most of one author's work.  That way, instead of just knowing one novel, I know about the writer's style, techniques, etc. along with a body of work.  Once I read just Russian authors for a summer.

Now if you are looking to do something like a self survey course, where you read the classics or the most widely taught novels, look at the ones that are frequently asked about here on this site (The Great Gatsby, Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, etc.) , and pull up the study guides for each of them to help you understand them more quickly.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow!  If you did everything listed here, you would never have a spare moment for the next ten years!  Lots of approaches to choose from, and I'm confident one or more of them will work for you.  I agree with those who said teaching is the best learning.  I spent a whole lot of years reading along with them, as I did not have as much specific learning as I might have liked.  I remember reading and teaching The Scarlet Letter with my class for the first time, not having read it before, and I was so moved and delighted by the experience.  I'm certain that positive energy and vibe is all that carried us all through (because I wasn't very good), but we made it.  I admire you for recognizing this gap and for being willing to do what it takes to remedy the situation.  I'm confident you'll be an effective teacher. 

mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The best way to play catch up is to read literary criticism.  You should start with How to Read Literature Like a Professor and Northrop Frye's book on archetypes in literature.  These books will help you make connections between literature, schools of lit crit, and other disciplines.

Another good way to play catch up is to teach.  You will learn the books better as you teach them.  You will have to teach books you've never read.  The class, then, will serve as a literary community.

Finally, you need to write a Master's thesis or some such long, focused, researched paper.  I learned more by writing this paper that I may have learned in my four years of undergraduate work.  It's a painful process, but after it is finished, you can say that you are an expert in a field.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's ok!  Take a deep breath.  Continue to read, read, read whenever you get a chance.  But do not feel inadequate if have not read this book or that one.  When it is time to teach the book, you can read it then.  You can get yourself a copy of the core literature for your local school district and begin reading any books you have not read and re-reading any you have already read, but it usually will not matter.  I have never been hired because of the books I have read, but it has been helpful in getting me hired, in addition to my skills, that I have read most of the books that are taught at the high school level.  Spend some time browsing enotes, and look to see which books are the most popular.  Those are the books to read, because you likely will be teaching them someday.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm a second-career teacher; that is, I came to teaching after 18 years in the corporate world. So I can empathize with you.

My school district has a protected reading list of which books can be taught at each grade level. When I found out I was going to teach 10th grade English, the first thing I did was to get every book on the 10th grade list and try to read those. The next thing I did was to become familiar with a wide variety of short stories; not just the ones in the textbook, but others that are recommended for classroom study. Now, I'm reading as much YA literature as I can get my hands on. Not only is it what the students are most likely to want to read, but also it is the most interesting fiction being written today.

I hope these suggestions help.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I just read an article arguing that the set of books that are taught in school hasn't changed in sixty years, so perhaps you are a walking argument for why things ought to change.  I don't have too much advice in terms of catching up that hasn't already been offered.

But don't be afraid to take your new entry into the field as a great boone.  So many people enter with a pre-set idea of what is great literature and what "ought" to be read.  You, on the other hand, are starting in a way from scratch so you can be making some of the same connections as your students as you read together.  Just don't think of this difference as a disadvantage.  Easy for me to say, I know, but perhaps it will also be a help.

booksnmore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a high school English teacher, I frequently found myself learning pieces of literature for the first time, right alongside my students. Rather than being a hindrance, it kept classes interesting for me. The first several years I taught middle school language arts I brought home piles of adolescent novels each weekend to try to "catch up" on the literature I needed to know for that age level. I don't think what you are experiencing is unusual. I think a lot of professions demand that you learn as-you-go while on-the-job. I've often thought that my teaching certificate was my ticket to go out there and start learning. Enjoy!

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When you are not studying for your other courses, use your free time to read, read, read! If you have not been an avid reader previously, take the time now to catch up. A previous post suggested reading many of the most-asked-about novels on eNotes. It's an excellent idea. Try to stick to literary titles, and don't forget dramas and short stories. Once you find specific authors you enjoy, follow through with more of their material. Don't let TV and other modern distractions get in your way.

anthonda49 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I really like the advice about reading adolescent or YA literature. There are so many of these great books out there that teach valuable lessons in a quick easy read. I have found that knowledge of the classics isn't terribly helpful in today's classroom with the current crop of students who read little and use the computer/television so much for entertainment. Though written for young adults, these books are written by adults facing problems so many of your students will face.

epollock | Student

Focus on the ways you can express your self, from verbal to written and strengthen those methods. Especially your writing ability will play a great part in your career and the better it is, the better your students will be. Also, master effective strategies of great teachers, and you will go far also.

jnobles | Student

# 6. I am retired military myself.  While I am really enjoying my college experience, I find myself struggling to keep up with some of the discussions beacause my professors will use a certain text as an example and while a majority of the class have read or heard of it, I have not.  This makes it harder for me to see what the example has to do with the discussion.

#5.  That is a very interesting perspective.  College is just wetting my intellectual sponge.  I am trying to find way to increase what I have learned. 

This is really good advice and suggestion that are coming out.  Thanks

jnobles | Student

yes this is the type of advice I am looking for.  Thanks