Monday, January 31, 2011

What books do you love to teach and why?

by Jason Scott

This morning I decided to do a quick, very unscientific survey of the blogosphere and see what books teachers are saying they loved to teach.

Jen Forbus, commenting at, and probably speaking on behalf of a huge number of English Teachers, picked a chestnut:

"When I was teaching, my favorite book to teach was To Kill a Mockingbird, and one of the projects I did with my students was have them creating setting maps of Maycomb. The students loved it and really got into. I think visuals help a lot in making the fictional world real."

When interviewed for his school paper's blog, Scarsdale High’s Assistant Principal, Fred Goldberg gave one that he liked teaching, one he liked reading, and one he thought everyone should read.

PH: What is your favorite book to read and to teach?

Well, my favorite book to teach is Hamlet and my favorite book is probably Catch-22. I think every high school student should read The Grapes of Wrath because it is the great American novel.

(I’m not sure what that says about what Mr. Goldberg thinks about teaching the works of Mr. Steinbeck (?) )

Sharon Roth, interviewed on her school’s blog, Ecliptic Times, could not narrow it down to just one work.

PH: What is your favorite book to teach? Why?

Hmmm ... that's a tough one. Can I name my favorite unit?

Go ahead.

My favorite unit to teach is the Shakespeare unit because there is just so much material. Videos, the history of the time, the plays to read ... the plays in particular are fun, because not only are they great stories, but their themes still resonate with society today. Shakespeare understood people, and people do not change.

One of my own English Teachers and now my colleague here at Prestwick House, Doug Grudzina, said that he liked teaching two books:

I always looked forward to teaching The Time Machine and Brave New World. Both are ‘futuristic’ books that are really social commentaries about the time period when the writer was writing.

He admitted to me that sneaking the literary medicine disguised as sci-fi past his students was a large part of the appeal.

Finally, here is a tricky one from “Rebekah” writing at The Masks Blog:

My favorite book to teach is Mein Kampf. Talk about a hot-button book! Just showing the cover gets a reaction from students. As soon as they notice it’s by Adolf Hitler, the questions come out. What kind of class is this? Am I some kind of crypto-Nazi? Do their parents know they’re reading this? Should their parents know they’re reading this?

I give them a section to read, a passage usually titled “On Nation and Race.” And I challenge the students to find the flaws in the author’s reasoning, if they can.

They do, of course. It’s not hard. Mein Kampf is literally a textbook example of fallacious logic.

As I said, this was a completely unscientific survey of the field, but I think it still attests to an enormous amount of creativity and diversity in the teaching of the world’s best literature. What strikes me is the way teachers who love book and love the books they teach have the best chance of really reaching their students.

I’m a firm believer in that notion that there is a book out there for everyone. What I mean is, there is a book that can turn even the most ardent non-reader into an avid reader. Finding that book for that non-reader has got to be one of the most important jobs an English teacher has. (And actually succeeding has got to be one of the greatest satisfactions!)

So which book (or books) is it for you? Which novels or plays seem to really grab the aloof and disinterested students and flip on the lights?

What books do you love to teach?

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