Favourite and least favourite texts to teach
For the August English blog sync, we are to write about what our favourite and least favourite texts are to teach. As English teachers, it is obvious that we enjoy reading and interpreting texts. It’s in our nature. I know that I have a vast amount of “favourites” that I hope I will one day have the pleasure of being able to teach, thus (hopefully) instilling some of my own passion into my learners. Yet, when it comes to teaching, our initial passions can sometimes be marred by repetition and (in my own experience) the negative responses of our learners.
I would say that my least favourite text to teach is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. While I think that this text is deeply moving with its exploration of shattered hopes and dreams, providing a glimpse of life in America around the Great Depression, I quite simply don’t enjoy teaching it.
I have not been teaching for long, but I taught this text during my first PGCE placement and then at the institution that I currently work at during this past academic year. The cohort of students (at an FE college) that I teach, are those that received a D grade or below previously. Some were taking their GCSE English for the second time, others for the third time. As a result of this, many of them had studied this text before, so what followed when they arrived to class with the copies of this novella strewn around the room was a host of sighs and comments along the lines of “Are we reading this AGAIN?”. Quite simply- they are bored of it. To have not achieved the grade that you wanted/needed the previous year, to find that you have to exactly repeat what you are studying can be quite demotivating (in my opinion). Perhaps this cohort need to be inspired and feel like they are starting afresh and perhaps for some- turning over a new leaf.
Time is an also an issue for our students because we deliver the GCSE English (4700) course which runs for a year; this means that we only have one academic year to guide students through completing five pieces of controlled assessments and an exam. As a result of this, fitting in a reading of this novella can be overly time-consuming- especially when you consider that we can offer to teach the AQA short stories instead.
The text I have selected for my favourite, took me by surprise. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, is a powerful bildungsroman that contains some truly shocking and haunting moments. This last year was the first in which I taught this text at A-Level and so I wasn’t sure how students would react to it. I was pleasantly surprised because the majority of the group said that they thoroughly enjoyed it- a few even finished reading the novel after the first session because they wanted to know what happened before we started our close analysis.
As a result of some of the shocking moments in the novel, I had to be very careful when holding class discussion about key quotations, characterisation and themes etc. to avoid causing any offence to anyone in the group.
I happened to have my first internal graded observation during a session on The Kite Runner and was praised for how well I handled discussions based around the sensitive material in the text. I think that teaching sessions on this text has developed my practice in that I will take care in the future in terms of pre-empting conversations that may arise following the reading and discussion of any sensitive material.