English Companion Ning has an invitation on their website for teachers to write about poems that have inspired them or their teaching. While I don’t have one that has inspired me in teaching, I do have a few pieces of lit that I have loved teaching or that my students have really enjoyed. I have to say that what I have loved is not always the same as what the students enjoy; most teenagers don’t like stories that are bittersweet or ambiguous, two things that I gravitate towards. Maybe it’s an age thing but teenagers are still a bit like children in that they prefer to believe that the world is good and that everything will turn out for the best. You will notice that I am not including any of the standard texts that I teach because although I greatly appreciate Hamlet, for example, I have taught it so many times that a lot of the joy has worn off.
My list in no particular order:
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I actually only got to teach this novel twice and it was to a grade 12 Literature class. I had excellent students who were skilled readers and our exploration of this novel was great fun. The novel is complex in its structure with layers of symbolism and the conclusion is open-ended for the reader. I haven’t had the experience very often in teaching English where everyone wants to be there and actually cares about what you are discussing. I loved it.
The Tempest. Again in a lit class. It’s not a play for younger students; you have to have a certain level of sophistication to appreciate the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. When it is paired with the documentary Shakespeare Behind Bars, it has a powerful message.
The short story “Going to the Moon”by Nino Ricci. It’s beautifully written, sad and universal in its theme of being an outsider yet also about the immigrant experience.
“The Lottery”by Shirley Jackson. I’m sure most teachers have enjoyed teaching this one. There is no real answer as to why the events are happening in the story but it is fun to speculate.
Any short story by Alistair Macleod. I have to admit this is the bittersweet side that the students don’t like but I love his painful, lyrical stories.
“By the Waters of Babylon”by Stephen Vincent Benet. This is an old story ( 1937) but I am a sucker for any of those futuristic/ what has happened stories and this is a classic.
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton and We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier. We used to call these the magic books. They are YA fiction, the reading level is around grade 7 but our less than academic students loved them. They are both well-written in different styles and they both have the capacity to move or engage students.
“Fern Hill”by Dylan Thomas. Probably my favourite poem-fits the bittersweet category. I love the gorgeous language of the poem.
“A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”by John Donne-my second favourite poem and as different as chalk and cheese from Dylan Thomas. There’s something about the metaphysical conceits that appeal to me. I have also had success teaching this one.
Anything written by Alden Nowlan
“Did I miss anything?”by Tom Wayman. A classic teacher’s poem.
Ïn just”by e.e.cummings. It’s my 1960’s education but I love cummings and this is one of the easier ones to teach.
“Famous“by Naomi Shihab Nye. I’ve mentioned this one in an earlier post-it has a great message for kids.
“Dream Variations”by Langston Hughes. A simple, beautiful poem that says a lot.
If you aren’t familiar with it, I would like to recommend Nancie Atwell’s Naming the World: A year of poems and lessons. It’s a great resource for accessible poems and I have used it frequently.
If this listing of favourite things appeals to you, then by all means, please share what you have loved teaching with everyone who reads this blog.