Teachers: How free are you to choose the literature you cover in your classroom?I had very little flexibility with regard to the literature I was able to teach in my first job. (Every Honors 10th...
I had very little flexibility with regard to the literature I was able to teach in my first job. (Every Honors 10th grade teacher, for example, was required to teach the same works and used many of the same materials.)
Now I'm able, for the most part, to choose the works I'd like to cover--without worrying about what other teachers who teach the same course are doing. What are your experiences?
I am very lucky to be in the district I am, and teaching at the particular site I teach. Our district pacing guides are just that: guides. Yet there's other high schools in the district where the English dept. requires all teachers of certain grade levels to be on the same page of the textbook at the same time. However, our dept. head has always fought for choice in the classroom, and our principal respects our decisions. In California, we have state standards for each grade level, and some districts have "met" those standards by imposing an iron fist on the curriculum. At my site, our dept. maintains that as long as we're teaching the standards, it doesn't matter what literature we choose. I remember one staff meeting quite well, as our dept. head taught 2 of our essential standards using The Cat in the Hat, then taught the same 2 standards using Heart of Darkness.
While there is a recommended reading list, we are free to choose our literature, especially at the AP and Honors levels. I love the freedom, because I can mix the classics with more contemporary selections. For example, with sophomores, I teach To Kill a Mockingbird and Antigone, as well as Maus and The Joy Luck Club. With seniors, I teach Hamlet and Beowulf with I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody and Persepolis.
I feel that all teachers should have some control over the curriculum/content in their classrooms. For me personally, it allows me to explore the literature I love with my students, and experience it anew through their eyes. I am excited every day by their discoveries, and I can't wait to see what class discussions will reveal. Could I have that experience if I didn't choose the literature? Of course. But teaching is sharing, and I am rarely happier than when I'm sharing a text I love with my classes.
I went from a public school (with moderate flexibility) to a private school where I was basically the English department head. All schools in NC follow an order of English - but within each (American Lit, Brit Lit, World Lit, etc.) there is probably a lot of freedom to teach anything.
I've seen more and more teachers stray from the traditional school classics in response to the number of high school students who simply refuse to read at all. On one hand, its a little sad that many of the great classics are reserved for those honors and college bound students - but on the other hand, I'm always in favor of getting kids interested in reading. When teachers find something new that students really enjoy, even if it isn't considered a "classic" I can't really argue.
When I was in the classroom in Georgia and Massachusetts I had tremendous latitude to select the literature I taught. There were a few "required" items at particular grade levels in high school, such as Romeo and Juliet for freshman and The Scarlet Letter for juniors.
I am of the strong opinion that English teachers need to be able to select their own literature for the most part so that teachers can teach to their passions. For example, I am a huge Shakespeare aficianado, but I liked to teach The Taming of the Shrew for seniors and not just Hamlet. For most of my students, the comedies were unknown to them, and many of them viewed Shakespeare as deadly depressing as well as difficult to access.
I've worked in four different high schools and a community college and in each situation, I've been very free in choosing the literature that I teach. Currently, the English teachers at my school are required to teach a set of four standard titles in each grade level so that the students have a common reading base that they can draw on during successive years. But we can teach these four texts at any time in the year. After that, we have a list of about 30 alternative texts (nonfiction, fiction, and drama) from which we can choose to develop our courses (plus we have short story and poetry anthologies). I'm quite happy with our system.
I have a daughter who is in the high school honors program and she came home from school telling me what they are going to be reading this year. The teacher is free to choose which books she would like her students to read and she really picked a diverse group of works. I think that it is great that she is allowed to do this because I can tell that she is a very passionate teacher and will really get the students involved. Had she beed forced to comply with a certain list of books, the passion may not have been there.
Similar to post #5, in my department we have a "core" novel and a "core" drama at each grade level that every student reads regardless of which teacher she has. This allows us to build upon a common base of reading experience in each subsequent year. For example, as a sophomore teacher, I know that all of my students read Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird last year. Beyond the two "core" works, then, teachers are free to choose whatever other literature they want to teach. The system works well for us.
Our high school also has at least one novel for each leve whose reading is a requirement. Other than these, teachers are free to select from the state-approved list. It is ironic that a couple of the novels on the list of such a conservative state are rather controversial. Since they are approved, however, teachers feel secure in selecting them.
At the junior college level, there are anthologies from which instructors may choose whichever works they desire.
I have a lot of flexibility, not so much because my district is open minded, but because the system of oversight is broken. We need to form a committee of people to read the proposed book and ask questions about how it will be taught/its value etc. But most never read the book and the committee becomes a rubber stamp.
I don't abuse that reality, but it has allowed me to teach some novels that otherwise might be censored out of fear or intolerance.
We are free to choose as long as we stay within certain categories. For 11th grade it has to be American literature and for 12th grade it has to be British literature. My school stresses standards and skills, so I try to choose novels and short stories that make students think. It's so refreshing to be able to have choice...I couldn't imagine having mandates about the literature I teach. I know a lot of teachers don't have choice.
I, too, have been fortunate enough to be able to choose my own literature at every school in which I've taught. A few things were "taken" by other teachers, but generally my list didn't coincide with theirs. It's a huge deal for you to be able to work both within your comfort zone as well as your passions--and the opportunity to present the classics is amazing! Enjoy this little luxury. Free at last, free at last....
I have only had one principal who insisted upon all of her same-grade teachers using identical stories and lesson plans. The teachers all hated it because it restricted their independence as far as choosing material in their comfort zone. I think it's important to teach what you prefer as long as the students are exposed to a variety of classic material.
I am very fortunate to work in a private school where I am the English department. I have been able to choose the novels I want my 6th, 7th , and 8th graders to read. As a school we expose the students to "shared inquiry" through the Great Books program.
The hardest thing about choosing books is the cost. It is difficult to continually add new novels to the curriculum. I have thought about the use of e-books. Has anyone tried this in their class? During a short story unit with 7th graders, I have used free e-books from Project Gutenberg.