The joy of teaching Literature to teenagers

It is always entertaining trying to teach novels to 15/16 year olds whose attention span can just about manage a go on the x-box or to watch a video on Youtube before getting bored. A book is not very exciting in and off itself and it takes far too much concentration (from their point of view) to make it come alive. The first thing, on studying a new book, is always cries of ‘When will we be watching the film.’ (I once made the mistake of choosing Catcher in the Rye for my GCSE text for which there is no film and during which the kids sulked for the entire term. I was the meanest teacher in the world.)

Previously, I have taught Of Mice and Men and there is always some excitement at the first time that George calls Lennie a bastard. Especially if I am reading. It is funny how appalled pupils are at this swearing considering the fact that you hear them yelling fuck and cunt at almost random intervals when you make your way down the corridor. it’s hard to know which they find worse – that swearing is written down in a book or the fact that I would read it out as if it was perfectly normal. In fact, I always read it with a suitable amount of anger, which only adds to their astonishment.

This year, we are studying Lord of the Flies and there was a similar bit of joy to be had when Jack says ‘Bollocks to the rules.’ I wasn’t reading and the poor kid who was nearly died a death at having to say such a thing. Especially when I made him read it again, ‘with more feeling.’

Lord of the Flies has brought up a problem to do with language change. The use of the words ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ in this novel is very confusing for them. Especially as Simon is called both gay and queer in the same chapter. I could see that my explanations of what these words could also mean – happy or bright and odd or strange – were not cutting it. Regardless of what I have said to them, I would wager that at least one of them will write that in the exam that Simon was homosexual.

They are at least, starting to appreciate the storyline and I have really enjoyed reading it again. It still resonates, I think although I’m sure we all believe that we are so cultured now. You only have to watch some people in a crowd – say at the riots a couple of years ago – to know that civilisation is a very thin sheen indeed.

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4 thoughts on “The joy of teaching Literature to teenagers

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Smart English Revision | Smart English Revision

  2. The same things happen in my classroom (world history). I think any sort of swearing done on the part of a teacher (even if just reading a quote), catches them off guard because it seems to impede on their turf of shock value. 😉

    Of course, our students are sometimes shocked that are actual human beings. I don’t think I’ll get tired of seeing the surprise on their faces when the see me out in public. I swear they think I never leave my classroom. LOL!

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