Old Favourites - Timeless ClassicsI really like new texts and teaching them for the first time, so much so that I often work really hard to prepare units of novels, do them once and then never...
I really like new texts and teaching them for the first time, so much so that I often work really hard to prepare units of novels, do them once and then never teach them again. However, there are certain texts that I never seem to get tired of, no matter how many times I teach them, and certain texts that I continue to enjoy teaching again and again. Personal favourites are Pride and Prejudice, Twelfth Night and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. What are your perennial favourites that you never seem to tire of?
I enjoy To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the characters, the story and the themes, and I take the opportunity to look at the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the book (a collection of sonnets) called A Wreath for Emmet Till (which is quite moving for me, and riveting for my students).
I really enjoy Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet is OK, Macbeth is a standard (which I enjoy), but my favorite is Hamlet: how I love that story. It's not an uplifting story (there aren't a lot in our selection at my school—we never seem to get really uplifting books), but I am always amazed at how often we quote Hamlet and don't even think of it. There are some books that I'll try to do once, and as mentioned, after all that work, they just don't get off the ground. However, I like doing a sonnet and poetry unit. The poems are easily exchanged with new ones if I find something I like. And short stories are great fun. For many kids today, it's easier to keep kids with you if the story is short. Really good ones, like Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel," and Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," are favorites because they are filled with so much "stuff" that kids (and me, too) miss the first time around. I found that I enjoyed doing The Odyssey, which was new for me in the classroom. Now if we talk about new books I wish we could do with the kids…that would be quite a list as well.
I could teach Shakespeare's Hamlet 10,000 times and never be bored, because it's so full of human emotion and human fault---two of the most entertaining things on earth. The language, too, is beautiful, and the plot surprising and riveting. And, of course, there's the unresolved debate over Hamlet's madness... does he truly lose his mind by the end of the play? Is he completely lucid the whole time, or somewhere in between?
I'm also completely in love with Toni Morrison's Beloved, and have been from the time I read it in eleventh grade. That was the first time that I realized that literature could be more than just a story, that it could rattle things deep within us and change our lives. When the novel is taught well, students come away moved, haunted, and empowered. Morrison's style is altogether unique. She breaks every rule, and comes away triumphant.
And for middle schoolers, you can't beat The Giver. It's just packed with important questions that can be applied to our own society. Emerging critical thinkers find Lois Lowry's story endlessly fascinating.
I think what lifts my heart the most about this discussion is to see so many different "true loves" so-to-speak, in regards to teaching literature. What is even more wonderful is that many find it enjoyable to teach the very things that I do NOT enjoy! It makes for a wonderfully balanced world (or at least a balanced English Department). Ha!
As for me, I have two: The Great Gatsby and general Transcendentalism. The reasoning behind these two selections has to do with so much more than the fabulous literature here. I greatly enjoy giving students experiences that they will remember and cherish throughout their lives while doting on the same pieces that I, myself, love. So, when I teach teens the Charleston and have a real contest, ... or have students ponder what quote means the most to them and then sound their "barbaric Yawp over the roofs of the world," I am truly complete as a teacher and as a person.
One book that I really love teaching is Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. My students love the book--the soap opera-y, gossipy parts really draw a lot of them in, while there are enough literary parts of the book for it to be a great teaching tool. Another thing I love about the book is that it introduces a part of American (Native Americans and the reservation) society that my students don't know a lot about, but it does it in such a way that the characters and their lives don't seem too too foreign. I noticed that they feel successful when they recognize stuff they're familiar with, so they stay curious without feeling out of their depths or thwarted. I also love the structure of the book--each chapter can be read as its own short story, so kids who aren't up for a "huge book" can follow the plot in a different way.
I return to 'Of Mice and Men' regularly as it is accessible yet with depth and pathos. Extracts from 'Cider With Rosie' by Laurie Lee are regular helpers with the teaching of humour, and extracts of 'Great Expectations' help the younger students develop character.
Shakespeare is always with me: I love a tragedy and rotate between Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth. I love the poetry of Plath and Dickinson for my angst-ridden ladies, and 'The Outsiders' novel for my not-so tough younger boys.
'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' by James Thurber, Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper and Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour' are my favourite short stories, although I use a lot of Poe and Conan Doyle too.
I have read most of Edith Wharton's novels about three times each, but the one I just cannot put down is The House of Mirth. There are so many truths in that story that it just brings you to reality while the story itself is fictional. Another book I just cannot put down is The Picture of Dorian Gray simply because the aphorisms are so mixed and varied that I wish I could slam dunk a couple each time I spoke the way Wilde does. Now, when I want to feel fancy and uber stimulated I read feverishly the Reginald tales by Saki. Anything Reginald and the other dandies do are totallty my cup of tea. He and PG Wodehouse rock my world.
You may have noticed from all my posted answers that I am quite partial to To Kill a Mockingbird. Living in the South, it seems like a perfectly appropriate novel to teach historical and social relevance, and it is required reading in many states and school districts.
I had great success with The Kite Runner, and it is certainly as relevant today as it was when it was written. For middle school classes, I have found that The Outsiders has made a resurgence in both popularity and relevance with the increased and ever-present gang activities that currently plague our nation.
I have to say that my favorite classic to teach is Beowulf. I love the fact that this ancient text can be brought into current times by the reflections students can make in regards to heroes. They also enjoy the imagery comparisons between light and dark. While the new movie is far from a literal translation of the original text, it is wonderful to use to see the differences in how light and dark are portrayed.
I also love teaching The Catcher in the Rye. Students seem to like the edgy text and the character of Holden.
I teach history, but often work literature into my classes as it's such a detailed reflection of society at that time period. I could read Walt Whitman all day long. I never get tired of teaching Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and Mark Twain.
I have taught American Literature for 15 years and never tire of teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I enjoy meeting the controversy that tends to swirl around this novel head on. I love really pulling apart the satire of Twain and helping young minds get to the root of the novel. In addition, over the past 6 years, a school year is not complete unless I am able to teach The Grapes of Wrath. Regardless of one's political beliefs, I find that Steinbeck's ideas in the intercalary chapters have a universal appeal. No matter how many times I read it, I have a hard time not shedding a tear during Chapter 25 when the abundance of food turns to rotten food and the hungry have been prevented from feeding themselves and their children. Powerful images!
As a history teacher I don't get to teach a lot of literature, however, my favorites are Animal Farm, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Fahrenheit 451. I am going to use the graphic novel V for Vendetta this year to try to encourage more reading outside the classroom. I also teach parts of The Odyssey, Canterbury Tales, Dante’s Inferno, Frankenstein, and Night. My students really seem to enjoy the literature more if they have an understanding of the time period in which it was written. Students always seem surprised of the underlying messages of the stories. I find that I still want to teach the classic tales I read in high school and college. I am finding out that I must find more literature that relates to Asian and Latin American history. That is my endeavor for this summer.