Top 5 Books English Teachers Hate

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We all know that there are books out there which high school students wish would fall off the face of the earth.  Everyone has repressed memories of those tired tomes.  But nobody dares ask the other important question with regard to high school literature – what books do teachers wish they could stop teaching?  In an extraordinarily scientific study (read: this study contains no science), I posed the question to a few different groups of teachers and got some remarkable answers. Admittedly, if you get enough teachers together, you could pretty much cover the entire scope of all literature. Just like any group of people, teachers don’t always agree. But the books listed below were all mentioned multiple times with no prompting. So don’t shoot the messenger.

Homer

No, not the Simpson family patriarch. Rather, teachers were referring to the father of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The teachers asked find it tough to make this author exciting for teens and young adults. To steal a phrase from his contemporary, “D’oh!”

 

 

Beowulf

Along the same lines as Homer’s works, this epic poem epically failed to inspire. A classic line to describe this classic poem, “Yuck! It’s so bad, even Woody Allen makes a joke about it in Annie Hall.” Dag, yo. (note to self: Go back and re-watch Annie Hall)

 

 

Julius Caesar

All of the teachers claimed to avoid it when given the choice of The Bard’s greatest hits to cover. Simply stated by a longtime veteran, “I know why I should like it, but it still bores me to tears.” Oh no she didn’t!

 

 

The Pearl

The second least-loved book on the list, one person said, “I hate teaching it. I have tried and tried to make it interesting for my kids, but it was like pulling teeth to get through it…which is funny, since the book is less than 100 pages long.” Suck it, John Steinbeck! But we forgive you since you also gave us Of Mice and Men.

Moby Dick

Public enemy number one, Herman Melville’s classic is summed up by one educator thusly, “One hundred twenty three pages on everything you NEVER wanted to know about whaling, twenty six pages on why whales are grey, thirteen pages describing a piece of driftwood. Other novels express the American experience just as well and are better at encompassing the ‘flavor’ of the era. A classic that has outlived its time and usefulness.” I’d be inclined to disagree, but dude kind of has a point. So…

On a positive note, things aren’t all bad. While discussing books that may have reached their expiration date, these litterateurs were loathe to not talk about the books they wish would be more regularly included in the required materials. Most notable was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. This was followed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. Neither book was considered an easy read. But more importantly, these educators were compelled to introduce them in good faith that students are up for the challenge of something profound and meaningful and outside the realm of what we traditionally consider relevant.

By and large, the crown jewel of literary achievement agreed upon by one and all was Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Regarded as the single most necessary read for any high school student, everyone shared a fond memory of their first experience with it. Strangely, the most polarizing book was The Great Gatsby. Split almost straight down the middle in terms of being loved or reviled, F. Scott Fitzgerald escaped educational persecution on this list.

Overall, composing a list like this brings to mind the question – what determines how a book becomes a classic? Who gets to decide? And how come we don’t give students more of a voice? One participant put it best when she stated, “There are so many quality books out there that I hate when a school becomes ‘married’ to a certain list of books. Why not pick a theme and give the students a choice?”

Would we raise a different generation of readers? Would we inspire a different generation of writers?

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